..... Are my memories of two tours as an Infantry Small Unit
Commander in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, with the 4th Infantry Division,
including my life before and after the war.
This section has disturbing and graphic descriptions of
shocking physical damage to the flesh and horrible human suffering. Skip over
the red italic sections if your are easily affected. The story will still be
complete, only lacking some of it's emotional impact. You may never get over the
memory of those scenes depicted in red italics. I know I haven't over
a quarter of a century later.
I am serious...you don't need to read these sections to understand the stories. I relate them only
to be true to the reality of the horror of warfare. It's these memories
that keep veterans silent about combat for so long afterwards.
All the dated entries in this section will eventually be
converted into story format. These 10 stories are all I have had time to
complete to date.
Remembering Lt. Russell Pickering, one of my best, KIA 2 DEC 1969, An Khe, Vietnam
Click for larger image.
Slippery Red Clay
Dangers of the Slippery Red Clay Hills in the Central Highlands During the
Two Step Snake
One of the many unsung heroes I knew in combat...
B-52 Arc Light Bombing Run Damage Assessment patrol...
Task Force Alpha
The story of Hill 467 and Task Force Alpha...
Robert Grangers Memories, with Hill 467 and our MIA
Ambush Inside the Killing Zone of an NVA Ambush...
Grunt Gear This section shows some of the
equipment we carried in Vietnam ...
10. Drag Hole A Fisherman Comes of Age in the
Black Water Swamps of South Carolina...
My personal Guest Book is
posted here. If you wish to contribute to this site and were not with the 4th
Infantry in Vietnam...feel free to post here.
Instructions on posting are given on this link. Veterans and their families
from all conflicts, past and present are welcome.
My Tours of Duty and Assignments:
AUG 1968 - NOV 1968 - 2cd Lt., 1st Platoon Leader, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
NOV 1968 - MAY 1969 - 1st Lt., XO Bravo Company, 1 Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
Extended for second tour and took 30 days leave home before taking over
HHC 1st Lt. waiting for a line company and promotion to Captain.
MAY 1969 - OCT 1969 - 1st Lt., Company Commander, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
OCT 1969 - FEB 1970 - Capt., Company Commander, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
FEB 1970 - MAR 1970 - S3 Air, Tactical Operations Center, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
Click here to see the ribbons I wore and the
awards and decorations I received during my military service.
Returned to the US and remained on active duty until 1975, then stayed in the
Reserves until 1982,
leaving the service with the rank of Major.
These are my personal photos of
This page links to the copies of I kept from my tours in Vietnam and those of other Veterans of the
Fourth Infantry in Vietnam.
Before attempting to read these stories, you may want to go to the
review some of the military abbreviations, terms, and other jargon used. If you find a
term highlighted in blue and underlined in the story, it is a link that will open a small
window to show the glossary entry for that term. To close a glossary window
click on the x in the upper right corner of that window.
Click on Globe to see movie file created from
Google Earth of flight from my home in South Carolina to Seattle
Washington to Narita, Japan, to Cam Rahn Bay, Republic of
Vietnam ... 23 hours flight time, 10,000 miles ... nearly
halfway around the world. Slow loading due to the large files size, but gives a
good impression of the distances involved.
Click on the map icon to see maps of where
we fought in Vietnam. Shows you the distances and respective location of
some of the more important bases, location of major units, and a scrollable,
zoomable map of the Fourth Infantry Area of Operations.
Some sounds you may remember from Vietnam will posted here. Please add to
them if you can.
Click on the icon to go to my sounds of Vietnam Page.
What follows is my personal story.
Record of periods of service of
Richard J. Steedly in the Confederate States Armies
during the United States Civil War
(1861 - 1865).
1. Richard J. Steedly enlisted at Summerville, South Carolina, April 11, 1861,
for one year's service in Company "F", South Carolina Volunteers, Confederate
2. He reported as present at roll call and muster, held at Coles Island, April
11, 1862, and was discharged.
3. He re-enlisted at Coles Island, April 12, 1862 and was advanced to the rank
of Second Sergeant, between May 18th and December 31st, 1862. On this date,
April 12, 1862, a reorganization was held, and Company "F", S. C. Vol CSA was
mustered in as Company "G".
4. He was advanced to the rank of First Sergeant between January 1st and January
5. Promoted from First Sergeant to Second Lieutenant, January 15, 1863.
6. Promoted from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant, April 16, 1863.
7. Reported as present on roll call and muster, April 30, 1863.
8. Reported on June 30, 1863 as absent, on leave of furlough of indulgence since
June 26, 1863.
9. Reported as present on muster roll, August 31, 1863.
10. Reported as present on muster roll of December 31, 1863. Reported as on
extra duty, Superintendent of Shoe Shop since December 29, 1863.
11. Reported as present on muster roll, June 30, 1864.
12. Promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain on October 1st, 1864.
13. Reported as present on roll call on February 28, 1865, and was discharged as
Captain commanding Company "G", South Carolina Volunteers, Confederate States
The family history of Captain Richard Joseph Steedly, son of David and Patty
Steedly, who lived in sight of the Hunter's Chapel Baptist Church in Hunter's
Chapel Community, Bamberg, South Carolina.
(Click here to see
the Ancestry Research done by Ruby Smoak Steedly in August 1975)
CPT Richard Joseph Steedly, born 18 FEB 1831 - died 3 NOV 1902, married Emma
Elizabeth Edwards, born 26 MAR 1841, near Cattle Creek Camp Ground located
between Branchville and Bowman, in Orangeburg County, S. C. She died 20 SEP
CPT Dick, as Richard Joseph Steedly was commonly known and his wife had nine
children, six sons and three daughters.
1. Russell David Steedly
2. Mamie J. Steedly
3. John Wesley Steedly
4. Abraham Joseph Steedly
5. Thomas Richard Steedly
6. Fred Edwards Steedly
7. Otis James Steedly
8. Betty Emma Steedly
9. Fannie Aletha Steedly
John Wesley Steedly, Sr., born 26 FEB 1870 - died 29 JUL 1930, married Mary Jane
Miley, born 19 MAY 1873 - died 6 FEB 1937.
John Wesley Steedly, Sr. had 12 children.
1. Richard Joseph (Dick) Steedly
2. Ernest Steedly, died in infancy.
3. James Wilson (Jim) Steedly
4. Vivian Steedly, died in infancy.
5. Emma Elizabeth (Betty) Steedly
6. Charlotte Aletha (Lottie) Steedly
7. Mary Jane (Janie) Steedly
8. Julia Arimental Steedly
9. John Wesley Steedly, Jr.
10. Harriet Adella Steedly
11. Ethel Steedly, died in infancy.
12. Baby boy Steedly, stillborn.
Richard Joseph (Dick) Steedly, born 26 March 1900 - died 15 NOV 1941 married
Lelia Marie Wilson, born 23 MAY 1902. They were married 25 APR 1920. She died
suddenly at age 28 on 2 AUG 1930. Dick never recovered from the loss.
Richard Joseph (Dick) Steedly had five children.
1. Homer Richard Steedly
2. Evelyn Ileta Steedly
3. Leila Elizabeth Steedly
4. Edith Leone Steedly
5. Helen Virginia Steedly
Homer Richard Steedly, born 14 MAR 1921 - died 31 JAN 1986, married Betty
Gumbmann, born 1 NOV 1927 in Erlangen on 5 SEP 1945, while serving in the US
Army in Germany.
Homer Richard Steedly had four children.
1. Homer R. Steedly Jr., born 7 JUN 1946 (This is me...)
2. Nancy Jo Steedly, born 22 OCT 1949
3. Anthony Leslie Steedly, born 17 OCT 1950
4. Linda Claire Steedly, born 14 JAN 1953
Homer R. Steedly Jr. served in the US Army in Vietnam from August 1968 until
March 1970. I enlisted in the Army as a Private on 4 OCT 1966 and left the
military service after nine years service with the rank of Major. I worked for
the University of South Carolina until retirement in 2001. At the time
the I was the Assistant Director of the Computing and Information Technology Center for
the College of Liberal Arts. I married late in life, to Elizabeth Little Dozier
on Valentines Day, 1995. We have no children. What follows is my story.
25 JUL 63
Attended the State 4-H Club Week proceedings at
30 SEP 66
On Friday I found out that I was failing most subjects at Clemson University and would be put on academic probation
the next quarter. I had expected this, since I realized last quarter, after a year of studying as hard
as I could, that my small rural Bamberg High School simply had not given me the necessary tools to compete with the
other students here at Clemson. I had studied classical geometry and algebra in
high school. My fellow Clemson students had all taken two
semesters of calculus and trigonometry as well. I was considered a science "whiz kid" in high school, but when I took
my first chemistry class at Clemson I was totally lost. I was taught the Neils Bohr planetary ring explanation of atoms,
with protons, neutrons, and electrons. I had never heard of quantum mechanics or such things a neutrinos, quarks,
or charmed particles. My classmates all understood such concepts and were moving on from there. My parents
struggled to put me through my first year and I lived with my Aunt Hattie to save on room and board, so I did not want
to waste any more of their finances just to flunk out. I took the last quarter off, academically, hardly attending any
classes and spent almost every day in the library, studying the high school text books there in an attempt to give myself
the missing part of my education. I stumbled upon two archives in the basement of the library that fascinated me.
Every day, after supper, I would go back to the library and read back issues of Science Digest and Scientific American.
I also spent part of the evening reading the transcripts of the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. I went to the registrar's
office after finding out that I was being put on academic probation and withdrew from the University.
1 OCT 66
I got up early then hitch hiked home to Bamberg. I stopped in town at the post office and saw the Army recruiter. He assured
me that I would get into the Chemical Corps and get specialized training with them. He also said that since I was not 21 years
old yet, I had to get my parents signature on the application forms. I caught a ride home and after supper I broke the news to
my parents. When I told them that I intended to enlist in the Army and catch up on my high school education while in the service
and then use the GI Bill when I got out to go back to college, Dad hit the roof, flatly stating that he would not give his consent.
After a few heated words, we avoided each other and I went to bed.
2 OCT 66
To my shock, on Sunday morning Dad sat down with me and asked me if I really had my mind set on going into the Army.
I told him I did and explained why. He said he thought I was making a mistake, but if I really wanted to he would sign
the papers. I now realize that Dad's reaction was a natural result of his own memories of combat and
his certainty that
I would be sent to Vietnam. I did not expect to see combat, since I expected to be in the Chemical Corp.
3 OCT 66
I enlisted in US Army at the Bamberg Post Office early Monday morning. The recruiter told me to report to Ft. Jackson
in the state capital, Columbia, South Carolina the next day. I was given a bus ticket to Columbia and told that a military bus
would be at the terminal to take us to the Fort. At Ft. Jackson.
4 OCT 66
The in processing at Ft. Jackson began with a physical. All of us stripped naked and lined up along both sides of the
hallway. A couple of Doctors moved down the line asking us questions and checking for hernia's. Next we were taken to
a large waiting room and called out one at a time for a more detailed physical. When I got to this stage, the Doctor
weighed me and told me that at 94 lbs. I was underweight and could not enlist. I protested, but he just told me to get
dressed and report to the front reception area for a bus ticket home. I left, dejected, then decided to just join the
next group coming in for processing and try again. First I went to the water fountain and drank until I thought I would
die. This second time I hoped I would be just over the minimum weight requirement. As luck would have it, I was sent to
the same Doctor I had seen earlier in the morning. He took one look at me and asked what I was doing back.
I told him and when he weighed me, he said I was still 2 lbs. underweight, but said if I was that determined to get into
the Army, he would pass me anyway.
10 OCT 66
10 OCT 66
I stayed at Ft. Jackson for over a week doing odd jobs, mostly litter pickup. When the Drill Sergeant in charge asked
if anyone knew how to march, I raised my hand, having learned Drill and Ceremonies at Clemson in the ROTC program. From
then on I was in charge of the other inductee's and after teaching them the basics of marching in ranks, the Sergeant let
me move them from place to place. I took a placement test of OCS, but failed one section by two points.
The officer who administered the test said that I had been too honest. He advised me the next time I took the test to answer
the questions, as if I were answering for someone else, whom I really admired. He said to answer all the questions as if looking
at that person displayed up on a pedestal in a hall of heroes. He told me to take it again when I got to AIT.
14 OCT 66
14 OCT 66
This is a photo of me in Basic Training.
23 OCT 66
23 OCT 66
I went to Ft. Lewis Washington for Advanced Individual Training in January of
9 JAN 67
9 JAN 67
29 JAN 67
29 JAN 67
20 FEB 67
20 FEB 67
2 MAR 67
2 MAR 67
Caught double pneumonia and spend two days in a coma after a fever of 107
I shipped out to Ft. Benning Georgia in April 1967 for 23 weeks of Officers Candidate School.
I was in 53rd Company. The infamous Lt. Calley was also in my training company.
I remember him as short in height and "hard core". He was referred to as
one of the old "Brown Boot" Army types, a term referring to the "lifer" NCO
types who had been in the Army, back when boots were brown. He was pushy
and not very well liked by those candidates I knew, but nevertheless very
competent. No one would have ever expected him to do anything that would reflect
poorly on the Army. He loved command too, much for that. I still
find it difficult to understand what happened at My Lai. I fully expected
him to have a long career in the military. Probably not General material,
but certainly someone who had found a home.
2 APR 67
23 APR 67
23 APR 67
Click on image to enlarge. This is the Code of Conduct card each soldier
had drilled into their heads.
28 APR 67
28 APR 67
28 APR 67
18 MAY 67
18 MAY 67
Click on image to enlarge. This is the card from OCS laminated with tape,
that I used in Vietnam.
2 JUN 67
2 JUN 67
7 JUN 67
Qualified Expert M16 rifle.
2 JUL 67
2 JUL 67
8 JUL 67
8 JUL 67
11 JUL 67
11 JUL 67
7 SEP 67
Commissioned 2LT, USAR, after completion of 23 weeks
photo shows me just before graduation. I was in
Class. He went on to become infamous for his role in the My Lai Massacre.
23 SEP 67
Assigned Ft. Jackson, SC. HHC Committee Group, USATC.
26 SEP 67
OIC, Basic Rifle Marksmanship Committee, Quick Kill Range.
12 DEC 67
I was assigned to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, General Subjects Committee,
Officer in Charge of the Land Navigation and Map Reading Committee. I was tasked
to write an Army Subject Schedule for approval by Department of the Army to
teach Map Reading and Land Navigation skills to the basic trainees, since the
word back from Vietnam was that most soldiers couldn't navigate by map. I wrote
the documents, got DA approval, and then built the training course at Ft.
Jackson and trained the instructor's.
8 FEB 68
We have finished setting up the Map Reading and Land Navigation course and
after running a couple of companies of basic trainees through the training and
course, I was taking a long
weekend to drive from Ft. Jackson, in Columbia to my folks home in Bamberg, a
little over 50 miles. When I got off the interstate and started down highway 301
into the town of Orangeburg around 8:45 pm, heading directly past the campus of
South Carolina State University. As I approached the campus, traffic slowed to a
crawl, but I couldn't get off that road, so I crawled along wondering what kind
of wreck had tied up traffic. At one point I though I hear some gun fire up
ahead. About 50 yards from the main entrance to the campus, I saw lots of people
milling about, and quit a few highway patrol troopers, some with rifles,
dispersing the crowd. I began to get worried at this point, since I had a 6 mm
bolt action rifle, a 308 cal Remington bolt action rifle with a 3x9 variable
power sniper scope on a swing off mount, with two canisters of illegal steel
jacketed military ammo, and a 357 magnum pistol all lying on the back deck of my
Volkswagen Station wagon in plain view. Weapons I had purchased while working on
the rifle ranges, where I often fired over a thousand rounds a day at the 300
meter targets to maintain my proficiency for the shooting demonstrations my NCOIC and I gave on the quick kill range. I had intended to get in some target
shooting at home over the weekend. Now I looked up to find an armored personnel
carrier blocking the road and state troopers stopping and searching every
vehicle, before allowing them to take a right turn to bypass the campus and
continue downtown. At this point I had no clue as to what was going on, but I
definitely knew I would have a hard time explaining all the weapons, especially
the sniper rifle and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition. I had visions of courts
martial for the unauthorized use of military ammunition off post. I was too
close to the action to even turn around and try to cover up the weapons. As the
vehicle in front of me pulled off, I rolled down my window and before the
trooper could bend down to look inside the vehicle, I asked frantically, how I
could get to the hospital, claiming that my sister said that my mom was dying
and I had to get there quickly. He quickly gave me directions, then waved me on
without even looking into the back window, where all my weapons were in plain
Talk about relief!!! I did not find out what had happened until I heard the
Charleston TV news the next morning. Then I really got scared. If they had seen
the weapons, I would surely have been arrested.
21 FEB 68
While sitting in the range shack today, waiting for a group of trainees to
return from the compass course, one of my NCO's came in looking very scared.
He said some troop had come back with what looked like a live high explosive
mortar round of some kind he had never seen before. I went out and the kid
was waving it around. It was a WW I round that detonated when the nose was
pushed in far enough to invert a bezel spring. The nose was partially
deformed! I told the soldier that the round was a live high explosive and
the detonator was damaged and might go off at any second. I then told him
to very gently place the round on the ground, being very careful not to jar it
or let the damaged nose touch first. Then I had him and everyone else move
out of the area. We got on the range phone and call the base
EOD team and
told them what we had. They said the would send someone over right away.
About an hour later, a jeep with a trailer pulled up and the young SP/4 enlisted
man with the EOD patch on his fatigues jumped out. I showed the round to
him and he just grabbed it and threw it into the trailer. I jumped back in
horror, then proceeded to warn him about what I thought the dangers might be.
He just laughed and said he did this kind of thing all the time. We found
out later that the jeep trailer had been destroyed in front of the EOD building,
when the round exploded in the sun as the tech filled out the paper work to get
an explosive block to destroy it.
5 JUN 68
On June 5, 1968 Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California,
while thanking his supporters for his victory in the California Democratic presidential preference primary .
13 AUG 68
Arrive Cam Rahn Bay, RVN.
18 AUG 68
18 AUG 68
Arrive Pleiku, RVN, for a week of training. It rains constantly you are often shivering cold from the wet at night. When
it stops raining the temperature often soars 90 to 110 degrees with 90% humidity. The whole place, people and
all, are red from the red mud everywhere.
We all have a lot of fond and not so fond memories of Nam and among them was the
equipment that we carried to assure our comfort and survival. Here is a review
of some of them you may remember carrying around on your back.
21 AUG 68-29. This
photo shows the strong point on a smaller hill
next to the main base. They attacked right up the valley between us. It was a
FSB-1, Dak To 17:17 hours received 21 rounds 122mm rockets. 1 US KIA, 1 US WIA,
two OV-1 aircraft damaged.
24 AUG 68
24 AUG 68
25 AUG 68
25 AUG 68
27 AUG 68
27 AUG 68
Arrive Dak To,
27 AUG 68
Get 1st Platoon B Co., 1st of the 8th, 4th Infantry Division on hill 1089.
photo was taken there.
I have 39 men.
28 AUG 68
28 AUG 68
Riots at Democratic National Convention (Chicago)
On August 28 ten thousand anti-war demonstrators battled Chicago police and national guard units.
Came in to Dak To to coordinate the
choppers to lift the company out and got
stuck here because of rain. We will need 35 birds for the lift..
1 SEP 68
1 SEP 68
3 SEP 68
CO reformed company into four platoons of 30 men each.
4 SEP 68
4 SEP 68
Company at Dak To on perimeter duty. My platoon on
ready reaction standby.
7 SEP 68
7 SEP 68
It has been raining for nearly two weeks here and the mud is from just ankle
deep to waist deep in places. The mud is like soup, but I manage to keep dry
most of the time. Contrary to popular belief it does get cold in Viet Nam,
especially here in the Central Highlands. I'm in the battalion base camp now.
We're pulling perimeter security and it's really great. Three hot meals a day,
showers, occasionally a movie, but there is still mud, perimeter guard duty,
rain, cold at night , mosquitoes, rats, and boredom. My radio call sign is
"Swamp Fox". Orders cut for 1st LT.
9 SEP 68
9 SEP 68
My platoon is on 15 minute alert today. They have a
chopper down about 15Klicks
North of us and the Cav is going to go get the pilots out. They can only
get one bird on the ground at a time in that area with seven men on each bird.
NVA have three well dug in machine gun
positions around the
those first seven men are really going to
have it rough. If the Cav unit gets in real trouble my platoon will go get
them assist in their extraction. This
photo shows me waiting on alert standby at the Dak To perimeter.
11 SEP 68
11 SEP 68
13 SEP 68
13 SEP 68
Had to take weapon from a battle fatigued
LRRP by butt stroking him, when he attacked
me with knife.
14 SEP 68
14 SEP 68
BN CO LTC Tombaugh, "Bullet" pins my Silver 1st Lt. bars on personally. The
orders were actually cut on 7 SEP 68.
15 SEP 68
15 SEP 68
17 SEP 68
17 SEP 68
17 SEP 68
17 SEP 68
My platoon and the newly formed 4th platoon were chosen to go to fire base 29
along with "C" Co.
18 SEP 68
My 1st and the 4th platoon
FSB-29 with C Co., but only my two platoons
actually make it. C Co. rained out.
21 SEP 68
21 SEP 68
The first two days here at
FSB-29 were total confusion. I landed first
with my two platoons, but "C" company was supposed to be here first. The
bunkers were in a sanitary mess and we had to clean them all. They had food
cans, crap, mud, collapsed sandbag walls, and many were nearly full of water.
We are now rebuilding all of them. I have two platoons, 66 men, half the
company to keep protected until "C" company gets here and assumes control.
Photo taken on first day of a very naive
second lieutenant, note clean fatigues and no weapon. This
photo was taken on the second day.
22 SEP 68
22 SEP 68
Rest of B Co. CA's to
FSB-32. Still no sign of C Co. I know you
won't believe it, cause I can't hardly, but the
rucksack I carried to
FSB-29 weighed over 60 lbs., not to mention a
bag of gear that was about 30 lbs. You should have seen me! I fell when we
were unloading the
chopper and had to take the
rucksack off to get up. The 75 yards up that
slippery red clay hill to
FSB-29 was almost straight up. Several people
slipped back down the hill (rucksack,
weapon and all) before we all got up. One guy hurt himself when he fell and
coughed blood for a while, but he's O.K. now. The land out here is so thick
with bamboo, woods,
elephant grass, and wait-a-minute vines that you have to cut your way through
machete or else you just can't get through. When I send these people
out 3 to 6
klicks through that stuff in a day, they
really show guts in doing it. They don't have to be coaxed or watched though,
they're men and good men. Even when they can barely take another step you
won't hear any complaints.
23 SEP 68
C Co. Arrives at last.
24 SEP 68
24 SEP 68
We run patrols out of here for three days at a time, really three nights and
four days, using four-man recon teams. These men leave here with 60 lbs. packs
or more, plus weapons, grenades, etc. and then chop, push, and climb six to
seven kilometers through 800, 900, 1000 ft jungle covered mountains in 80 to
95 degree heat, and sleep in cold night rain, fight mosquitoes and leeches in
enemy territory for two or three days, them almost crawl back only to find
C-rations, guard duty, and details waiting
26 SEP 68
C Co. CA's out leaving me with my two platoons and one of theirs.
28 SEP 68
28 SEP 68
1 OCT 68
1 OCT 68
2 OCT 68
2 OCT 68
We are getting probed here at
FSB-29 every night, mostly
B-40's, and grenades. This
photo was taken while I had command of the
5 OCT 68
Before I tell you what happened I have to tell you what a
Claymore mine is like. It is a plastic cased
mine about 10" long and 6" wide and 2" thick. It has 700 steel buckshot in it,
which are propelled forward by a couple of pounds of C4,
plastic-high-explosive. The mine has a kill zone of 50 meters by 100 meters
and is set off by an electric charge. The wires go to our bunkers and the
claymores are set all around the perimeter about 50 meters in front of the
bunkers. All night long we got a real heavy rain with plenty of lightening,
not real good on an 800' hill. I was in my bunker just about asleep (just
about 2200 hrs.) when a large explosion threw me out of my bedroll. I ran
outside to see what it was, because it didn't sound like "in coming". What had
happened was lightening struck the hill and set off about 30 claymores
(equivalent to about 100 lbs of TNT). My two people on
LP reported they had been shaken pretty bad,
but were unhurt. Later we found out that both claymores in front of them had
gone off simultaneously with the 28 other claymores all around the perimeter
and that was what shook them so much. About the time things settled down I was
called to the Tactical Operations Center and told that my company would make a
Combat Assault at 0830 the next day. I ran back and gave a briefing to my
squad leaders to start packing for the CA, then briefed the other platoon
leader here at FSB-29. Then we got a call from the company commander at
FB 32 and Capt Brennan gave us the entire operations order. His two platoons
and the company headquarters at FB 32 would go in first and then the
would pick the two platoons at FB 29.
6 OCT 68
After packing most of the night, I got the squad leaders together and issued
my own operations order. At 07:00 we were on the
chopper pad in full field
gear ready to go. We waited there ready till 12:30 when the
got there. The CA itself was hot, tiring, sweaty work, but my people really
made a good show. We landed third, but were the first platoon to secure their
section of the company perimeter, first to clear fields of fire, first to dig
fighting positions, first to send out our patrol, and first to get our
OP out. The battalion commander, "Bullet",
really praised the CA and the
chopper pilot, who does nothing but fly CA's
said was the best he had seen during his tour in Viet Nam. It takes
about two weeks for mail to reach the world from over here.
9 OCT 68
9 OCT 68
Got word to be ready to pull out of
FSB-32 with a platoon from C Co. on
FSB-29 for a CA to
FSB-30. The company
CA'd out, but the birds were pulled before my
platoon got picked up.
12 OCT 68
12 OCT 68
Monsoon's almost over at last, but now temperatures are so high that even the
dirt will blister your skin. On days when it doesn't rain, the temperatures
soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes hitting 115. Any metal
object left in the sun for long, gets so hot that it will blister your bare
skin. Seems you just can't drink enough water and salt tablets are essential.
13 OCT 68
Contact with 3 NVA at 15:15 hours by SRP from
C Company, YB812212. 1 US KIA, 1 US WIA.
PFC Wayne Elledge killed in sight of firebase, while returning from patrol.
photo was taken minutes later and shows the
location of the ambush site.
14 OCT 68
Not sure of the date, but somewhere along now, the
NVA attempted to overrun
Home town paper article
about my promotion to 1st Lieutenant.
17 OCT 68
17 OCT 68
Finally get to join rest of company at
FSB-30. Building bunker 12' x 15' x 6'. Some
bunker, beds, table, chairs, and all. It's going to take about 3,000 sand bags
to cover the roof alone and lots of wooden ammo crates. This
photo shows artillery smoke round marking
prefired night defensive firing positions for
21 OCT 68
21 OCT 68
It has rained for seven days straight without a stop until today. My platoon
Sergeant, my two
RTO's (radio-telephone operators) and I spent 8 days building
our bunker. This is a
photo taken during construction. It is really
something, The hole for it is 12' x 15' x 4 '. When finished it
will extend only 3 ' above ground. It took nearly 4,000 sand bags to build it.
It's the envy of the whole company. Wood floors, bunks, shower, closing
windows, wood door, table, chairs, plenty of head room (7' high). Things
are going pretty smoothly right now, if the rain ends it should be real nice
FSB-30. The jungle around here is just
unbelievable. Bamboo 6" thick and 30' high, growing so close together you
can't get through.
28 OCT 68
28 OCT 68
I told you "B" company really had some good luck; we moved from
FSB-29 over here to
FSB-30 and 10 days after we left
FSB-29 got mortar and 75mm rockets. They have
had incoming for three days now. Guess they will get a ground attack soon.
photo shows our medic showing my squad
leaders how to administer serum albumin, a blood volume expander, that he
finally got permission to administer in the field, there by keeping people
from dying from blood loss in the field waiting for a Medevac.
29 OCT 68
FSB-29 located at YB839223 at 1705 hours
received 100 rounds of 82mm, 102 mm, and 75 RR rounds. 1
KIA and 4
1 NOV 68
1 NOV 68
1 NOV 1968
An encounter with one of Vietnam's infamous large reptiles...
I believe this story took place while I was a platoon leader with B/1/8 in
early November 1968. I can't sort out times from the first few months of
combat very clearly. It was all so overwhelming. Many veterans have
snake stories to relate about their tours in the Nam. This is my BIG SNAKE
story. If you were there, please contact me and help me get these stories
We have been stomping through the jungle around
FSB-29 for a week now,
looking for signs of the enemy. Today we have about a six
klick march to
our night defensive position on a ridge line across the valley. It's hot, real hot. By mid afternoon, the temperature is around 100 degrees.
Most of us carry 4-6 quarts of water and refill at every stream we cross.
We have just reached the valley floor and refilled our canteens. We ate a
cold C-ration lunch while we were stopped. After a fifteen minute rest, we
start up the other ridge line. Most of the way we have to haul ourselves up from root
to root the slope is so steep. We have been moving a few feet, stopping to
catch our breath, regain our strength, and cool down before moving another few
feet up the ridge. It seems like we have been doing this for an eternity.
We all wonder how much longer before we crest the ridge.
Suddenly the word comes down the trail that there is a snake in the way.
I begin the strenuous task of moving up to the front of the column to see why a
mere snake has stopped the entire platoon's forward advance. The path cut
out by the point men with
machete's is only a few feet wide, so passing others
is really difficult, since most of the hand and foot holds I need are already
being used by the soldiers lying there exhausted trying not to slide back down
the slope. Eventually I reach the point man, who simply points above his
head. At first I am uncertain just what it is I am looking at. It is
about twelve feet further up the trail still partially hidden by the vegetation.
It looks like a log, but it has the definite markings of some kind of reptile,
only it is way to big around to be a snake or lizard. It is nearly a foot
in diameter. I need
to get closer to figure out just what it is, but I am so exhausted from the
climb, that I am trembling with fatigue. I am also about to swoon from the
heat my physical exertion generated. I just lay there, panting. Bracing myself
on a clump of bamboo I take a long drink from my canteen. I even waste
some water on my hair, to attempt to cool down more quickly. My temples
are pounding with the early signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Finally I
drop my pack and climb up toward the mysterious shape ahead in the shadows.
As I get near the reality of it hits me with a chill. It is the biggest
snake I have ever seen, even on TV. It appears to be dead. At least
it is not moving. The size is so frightening, that I hesitate to attempt
to get closer I am. After
summoning up my courage I move forward, finally stepping
over it and sitting down just up hill from the creature. I can now see
that it is moving a fraction of an inch every few minutes. From the
motion I can tell that it's head must be to the right of the trail. I can
see about seven feet towards the head and five feet towards the tail. I
can see a full twelve feet of snake and it does not appear to get any smaller in
diameter in either direction.
We could drop back and cut another path around the tail side and
continue up the ridge, but I don't like the idea of losing sight of it and or
having to double back and climb up the ridge again. Stumbling onto this monster while cutting another path up
hill is not a comforting thought. I decide that if we simply step quietly
over it, we should be safe. I move back and after some smooth talking,
convince the point man to follow me up the trail and across the body of the
snake. I stay just below the snake and persuade each man in turn to continue up
the trail, helping them cross over the snake. Sometimes just pushing their
pack to give them a steadying hand, sometimes taking their rifle or pack and
handing it to them once they are safely over. It takes a valuable hour to get
all three dozen men over the obstacle. Finally there is only the rear
guard left. He definitely does not want to cross over the snake. He is afraid
of snakes and this is the granddad of all snakes. After
pleading, giving a direct order, and everything else I could think of to get him
to move up and join the rest of the platoon, I still can't get
him to even approach the snake. Finally I just tell him to wait until the snake
is out of site and then make a run for it up the trail and catch up with us when
he can. I take off up the trail and tell everyone to move out. The
guys at the rear of the column ask about the soldier left behind. I tell
them to go ahead I'll wait for him. I tell them that after a few moments all alone, he will
scared enough to catch up with us or else I will go back down with him and find
another way up.
I wait for nearly fifteen minutes, the sounds of the platoon completely die
out as they continue up the trail. First I hear only silence. Then I hear
some real heartfelt profanity, some including references to my ancestry followed
by the noise of exertion, panting, and feet scuffling. Suddenly the soldier comes into
sight, moves past me and with the snake safely below us he collapses. He is totally spent. I take
my canteen and pour water over his head to cool him down. Then when he
gets his breathing under control I offer him some of my water to drink.
Finally past the fear he apologizes and I tell him not to worry. I hear a noise
up ahead and call out. It is another man from the platoon, carrying only
his canteen and weapon. He says the platoon is stopped on top of the ridge
only about fifty yards ahead. We move out and rejoin the column. The
rest of the march to the night position is uneventful and we manage to get there
in time to dig in and clear fields of fire. We even get to eat
some heated C-rations before dark. Everyone is talking about the snake. I
now know that it was a constrictor, an Anaconda, some of which have been known
to grow to over thirty feet and 500 lbs. I don't think any of us will ever forget
climbing over that monster. We heard voices during the night, but they never came close enough to shoot
at, so we just fired some sighted in artillery targets along the trail in their
2 NOV 1968
Slippery Red Clay
Skip sections in
red and italics
if your are easily upset. They contain very graphic and upsetting
descriptions of combat.
2 NOV 1968
After the incident with the giant Anaconda yesterday I noticed that when we
moved out this morning the
point man moved forward much more slowly than the day before. We found
no evidence of any casualties from the
road runner artillery firing last night, except a single Ho Chi Minh sandal
left hastily on the trail. We are moving to a hilltop about three
klicks away to set up a base to run squad sized
ambush patrols out of for a few days. The fact that this ridge line
has such a clear trail on top means that it is being used regularly. The patrols
are told to setup alongside the trail, put out
claymores, prefire some artillery targets and wait for someone to come
along. When the enemy is in the kill zone, they are to blow the
claymores, fire a mad minute, and pull back to our perimeter as the
artillery is fired behind them in a blocking maneuver. No one is spotted the
first night, but we do see some flashlights on the opposite ridgeline and call
in some 105mm artillery fire on them. The next day the
CO wants us to send someone over to see if we got anyone. I tell him
that it almost killed us getting up the ridge the first time. To go down,
then up the other, search it, come back down only to have to climb back up this
ridge line again is simply not an option. If they made
contact while on the opposite ridge, I could not get to them in time to
help. He tries real hard to get me to do it, but I refuse. He then
orders me to break up into three night
ambushes instead of the one. I send out two reinforced squads, one in
each direction along the ridge and keep the third with me in the perimeter we
have setup. That night we heard movement about half way down the ridge towards
the valley. They had obviously spotted us and were going around our
position by traveling in the valley. I made the mistake of telling the
CO what I thought and of course he wanted us to setup an
ambush in the valley. Now that was real dumb, so I made another
suggestion. Why not sneak off and move to the other ridge line where we
had sighted the lights and setup a platoon sized
ambush on that trail. He liked the sound of that, so we packed up and
began the move. I had one squad stay behind and make enough noise to keep
the enemy thinking we were still all there. I also fired some blocking
artillery targets along the ridge to discourage anyone from moving up on the
stay behind element. We split up their packs and took most of their gear
with us, so they could make good time when I called them to move out and catch
up with us.
By 11:00am we were in the valley filling our canteens in the stream. It
was not as hot as it had been the last time we climbed a ridge, but it was still
over 90 degrees. About noon, just after we started climbing the ridge, it
started raining. The cool rain really felt good and soon cooled things
down quite a bit. The ground was so hot that there was steam everywhere.
It became so humid that the sweat just poured off us, irritating our eyes.
While we appreciated the respite from the heat, the rain also made the red clay
very slippery. About an hour up the ridge, someone slipped down the hill
nearly 50 feet, stopping when he was impaled on a stump of bamboo cut by the
point man while clearing a path.
He was in total agony. I came back to his
position and was shocked by what I saw. He had about a foot of bamboo jammed
right up his butt. Doc had given him some morphine to calm him down and
ease the pain. Everyone was stumped about what to do next. Doc said
that if we lifted him off the bamboo, he would probably bleed to death before we
could get him to an
LZ. I sent the first squad up to the top to find an
LZ, then called Battalion and told them the situation. We decided that
we had to cut the bamboo off and leave it in place, then carry him up the hill
LZ for Medevac. The only thing we had to cut the bamboo with was the
serrated back of a K-bar knife. Four of us held the guy while they cut at
the bamboo. It was nearly two inches in diameter and every saw with the
K-bar was agony for the poor guy even with the morphine.
Finally we got him free. We made a litter from his poncho and two bamboo
poles, then tied him into it. Them we just took a rope and tied it to the
litter and had five or six men up front pull, while several of us on either side
lifted the litter. Each heave would get him about three feet up the ridge,
then the rope guys would hold him until we moved up alongside again and we would
then hold the litter in place until the rope guys were in position to pull
again. I still do not know where we found the strength to keep that up
long enough to reach the top. At first the adrenalin helped, but that soon
wore off and it was sheer will power. When we got him to the top, the
first squad took over and moved him to the
LZ, which was only a fifty meter section of
elephant grass about 50 meters down the ridge line. The
chopper had to hover with only one skid on the ground as we loaded him into
the cargo bay. That, of course, ruined all chances of any surprise ambush
on the ridge line, so we were sent to a hill top about four klicks south to
setup a company sized perimeter in preparation for the rest of the company to
join up with us the following day.
3 NOV 1968
Two Step Snake
3 NOV 1968
We stopped about two hours later in another open saw grass clearing for a
rest and lunch break. I called for and got permission to take a resupply
while we were in the clearing so we could get some sand bags, ammo, mail, and
C-rations. Next I got in touch with the
trains area and told them what to send
out on the resupply chopper. While I was on the radio talking to the
CO, one of
my friends from the second squad, a fellow country boy from Alabama, walked up
holding a beautiful yellow green snake about two feet long and about as thick as
a pencil. He knew I liked to handle snakes too, so he offered him to me to hold.
Still talking on the radio, I told him maybe later. The head of the snake
was shaped like a spear point with large round eyes and for some reason that roused my defenses.
I got through finding out that our injured man had been sent to the field
hospital and would live, but was going to be shipped home for treatment.
About then, a soldier came running up yelling, "get a Medevac! That damn snake
bit him in the neck." I quickly changed frequencies and
called battalion for an immediate Medevac. I was moving towards the
injured man, when Doc stood up shaking his head and said quietly, "Forget the
Medevac, he's dead." I stood there for a few seconds, stunned. It
turns out that the snake wasn't a harmless green snake after all. I now know
that it was a deadly bamboo viper. The neurotoxin had paralyzed his
breathing and killed him within a matter of minutes. Regaining my
composure I cancelled the Medevac and got in touch with the incoming resupply
let them know that we had a body to send back with them. After the
the silence was weird. No one moved, no one spoke. The supplies just
lay where they had tossed them out the
chopper. We were all in
shock. I just sat there staring blankly, replaying the entire scene in my
mind. It could have just as easily been me. What had prevented me
from playing with that beautiful snake? Finally the radio started up and I
had to come back to reality. It was the CO wanting to know what had
happened. By the time I had updated the CO, the supplies had been split up
and passed out for transport. We had to move dangerously fast to make the hill
top before night fall and still have time to prepare fields of fire and dig
foxholes. I sent out three man listening posts up and down the trail about fifty
meters. I also had a LP positioned a short distance down each slope of the
ridge, to detect any movement coming up from the valleys. Needless to say,
we fired in artillery defensive targets before the patrols went out. They
were told to set up about 50 meters from the impact of the rounds, so they would
have prefired close in support to cover any retreat. The night was long
and surprisingly cold. I got little or no sleep. I kept replaying the days
events in my mind.
4 NOV 68
Skip sections in
red and italics
if your are easily upset. They contain very graphic and upsetting
descriptions of combat.
4 NOV 1968
to the next morning was cold, damp, and very lonely. We had heard
movement in the valley and fired artillery the night before, but had no contact.
By 10:00am the heat was oppressive again. I sent a patrol to the valley to find
a stream and fill all the empty canteens. We began improving our defenses and I
had each squad dig an additional foxhole for the incoming company troops. The
digging was real hard, in the red clay with baseball sized rocks in it. The clay
stuck to your entrenching tool like glue and you had to take a stick and scrape
it off. Digging a 2' x 6' fighting trench, two feet deep was an all out effort
for three or four men to complete in a couple of hours, especially in this heat.
We broke for lunch around noon. I told everyone to relax, only the
OP's on full
alert. I had each squad leader assign a team to take the empty canteens of one
of the incoming platoons and refill them from the valley. I also told them to
share their own canteens, keeping only enough to get them down to the valley
floor. The company made a wrong turn when they reached the ridge line and
traveled over an hour before they realized their mistake. It was nearly 15:00
hours by the time they arrived. The water crew had to really move fast and
reckless to make it to the stream and back before dark. The company was
exhausted from the march and very thankful for the fighting positions we had dug
for them and for the water. Captain Brennan had some explosives flown in and we
blew all the trees in the perimeter and setup an LZ. He also has more sandbags
and some concertina wire brought out. It looked like we were going to be here
for awhile. We started sending out three or four squad sized ambush and recon
patrols each day. There were daily contacts made, usually only sightings or
hearing movement and the application of artillery. The third day he sent my
platoon minus the weapons squad, out on a recon in force. As we moved rapidly
down the ridge we made contact just minutes after passing through the
point man and
slack man were hit in the initial burst of gunfire. After the
initial bursts of AK-47 fire, we all opened up for a couple of minutes before I
realized that we were not receiving any return fire. I called for a cease fire
and after a few seconds, began to move forward. I found Doc bent over the
slack man. He had turned to motion to the others to get down, when he had been hit in
the lower back by an AK-47 round.
The bullet had blown
a ten inch hole out his navel region. He was in serious pain. Doc was plunging the second
morphine syringe into him as I arrived. The soldier was clawing at his
intestines, desperately attempting to stuff them back into his abdomen. I took
his steel helmet and placed it over the wound, telling him to hold it there to
keep flys from infecting the wound. The morphine was not handling his pain, so I asked Doc to give him another dose
of morphine. Doc said that another would probably be fatal. I looked Doc in the
asked him whether he thought he would survive the 30 minutes it would take to
get a chopper in and fly him back to the evacuation hospital. He looked into my
eyes and just gave me the syringe. I told him to check on the others, I would
stay with this man. As he left, I waited for another minute or two before I
administered the final syringe. He had turned chalky white from blood loss by
now and his skin was very cold to the touch. Within seconds of administering the
third syringe, he finally began to calm down.
He said he couldn't
see. I told him to just lie still, the chopper was on the way. After a few
seconds, he whispered something, but I didn't hear what it was. I leaned over
and asked him to repeat it and he said," Was I a good soldier?" I told him that
his people back home would be real proud of him, he was a true hero. He then
asked if he was going to die. I told him that I thought he might. He then said
he was afraid. I told him not to worry, where he was going, things were much
better and he was a good person, so he had nothing to worry about. He smiled,
exhaled loudly, but without any real force, just a deflating of his lungs, and
the light of life in his eyes faded. I reached up and closed his eye lids with my
fingers just as Doc came back to report that the point man had bad shoulder and
leg wounds, but would make it. My platoon sergeant said that there were blood
trails leading away down the ridge and wanted to pursue them. I
told my RTO to tell the CO what had happened and had everyone else
setup a perimeter. The platoon sergeant, my RTO, a machine gunner, and I took
off following the blood trails. There were half inch thick dark red worms of
congealed blood, every 8-10 feet. Someone was hit real bad and judging from the
quantity of blood was dying. After about thirty yards we lost the trail, so we
turned back and rejoined the rest of the platoon. I had the RTO call the
get a Medevac for the point man, then we headed back to the
company perimeter carrying our "Good Soldier" with us. The chopper arrived a few minutes later. We were put on
perimeter security and another platoon sent out a squad sized
ambush in the same
direction as our contact, after the CO had done a
road runner artillery mission from
the OP outward along the ridge line and also in the valley on both sides, just
in case. We spent the next few days on perimeter guard for the company CP
as other platoons sent out ambush. I guess we deserved a rest after the
last two days.
5 NOV 68
5 NOV 68
02:00 left for a village
cordon and search operation, then walked back
to the Dak To perimeter. This
photo is of my platoon sergeant and I after
6 NOV 68
BDA North of
FSB-29. Half of B Co. returned to 32 with CPT
Brennan, the other half went with me to
conduct a BDA near
FSB-29 to assist CPT Morris of C Company.
Doing a Bomb Damage
Assessment after an Arc Light, then nearly getting
caught in one ourselves.
6 NOV 68
The CO sent my platoon out on a
BDA after an
Arc Light to suppress the attacks on FSB
29 and the surrounding area. We were dropped into an LZ about two klicks
from the main bombing area. We moved along a ridge line, using the well
established trail into the bombed out area. The extent of the devastation
was shocking. Bomb craters 50 feet deep were all over both sides of the
ridge. Almost all the trees were blown down and shattered into pieces. The
place looked like a moonscape. We found equipment and body parts all
throughout the area. One NVA body was hanging thirty feet up a tree,
pierced through the abdomen by the only limb remaining on the partial tree
trunk. He had been blown in half, with only the upper part of his body left. Weapons with splintered stocks were also found lying around. There
were no whole bodies to be found. The NVA must have come back and
removed them. We found packs, canteens, sandals, grenades, b-40 rocket rounds,
pith helmets, and all sorts of personal documents. Most of these we sent back to
S-2 for the intelligence value, but I kept quite a bit to use later, when we
needed to show contact, without having to lose people trying to get a body count on an unreasonable
We moved back to the LZ to meet a resupply chopper and send the captured weapons and documents back to
battalion on it.
We then proceeded to move down into the valley and back up the adjacent
ridge line. At the top, we found another heavily traveled trail.
There were fresh sandal prints and freshly broken vegetation on the side of the
ridge facing the bombed out ridge line. Battalion had us move back across the
valley to the LZ and choppers CA's us back to rejoin the company about two ridge lines
away. We were told that they intended to let the NVA use the second
ridge line for a few days, then hit it with another Arc Light. In the
intervening days, my platoon and 1st platoon, each with an attached squad from
the company minus, carried out a RIF operations in the direction of the ridge to be bombed.
1st platoon had one meeting engagement, but no casualties and no confirmed enemy
Kia's. We did not find anything until the second day. We were traveling
along a ridge line, two valleys away from the one to be bombed the next morning, when we
found a recently traveled trail going down into the valley. We moved
cautiously down into the valley and at the bottom we found a wide deep and
swift stream with a huge tree pulled over across the water to form a foot bridge. It had hand
rails of bamboo tied into place with vines. It was obviously a major
crossing point. We stopped and set up surveillance over the bridge as we
refilled our canteens and ate lunch. After a 20 minute lunch break, we
crossed the bridge and continued up the opposite ridge. About 50 meters
from the top we found a cave about 40 feet deep and 30 feet wide, with a 12
foot ceiling. It was filled almost completely with ammunition, grenades, explosives,
artillery rounds, b-40 rockets. It was obviously a major ammo cache.
We called in to report the ammo cache and were asked if it could be air lifted out.
We said not very easily, since the slope to the top was very steep, with heavy
jungle and going back across the valley was even worse. They told us to come back
to the the LZ on the opposite ridge line and they would drop us some explosives to blow the
dump in place. When we got there
they just slung the supplies and lowered them through the canopy. I was
surprised at the amount of explosives they sent out. There was a 250 foot
roll of camouflaged detcord, two dozen blasting caps, a roll of slow fuse, a
dozen blocks of C4, and half a dozen electrical detonators. I LOVE
EXPLOSIVES! This was going to be fun. I was shocked to find
out that they had just packed detonators in among the blocks of explosives.
Especially with electrical detonators on a sling from a chopper that would be highly
charged with static electricity! The carelessness or ignorance many people show around
explosives is mind boggling. It was late in the afternoon, so I had the platoon set up a
perimeter and dig in for the night. I left my platoon sergeant in charge and took a squad
along with my RTO and Medic to go back and set an ambush along the river crossing. If
no one came by during the night, we intended to set the charges in the ammo dump and blow
it in the morning, then wait for the NVA to show up and catch them as they crossed the stream.
We took all the explosives with us, including the huge roll of detcord. We wrapped the
camouflaged detcord into the supporting handrails of the bridge, blending
it in with the vines already positioned to support the rails. We also put four blocks of
C-4 explosive under the main tree trunk that served as the foot path. We then put
detonators into each end of the detcord and into each block of C-4 and carefully ran the wires
back along the side of the trail to our ambush position off the trail and behind a huge boulder.
We waited all night and actually heard voices and saw lights along the trail above the ammo dump
but no one came down the ridge and crossed the bridge. As soon as we had enough light to move,
we climbed to the ammo dump and rigged it with all the remaining explosives and detcord, lighting
half a dozen slow fuses to go off about half an hour after we left. Then we hurried down the
trail and back across the bridge to our hidden ambush point and waited. When the charges went off
you could feel the concussion on your face. The noise reached us a second later, a sort of
muffled bass drum sound. Then we moved out to where we could see the ridge where
the dump had been and were shocked at the black mushroom cloud and the huge hole left when the
entire cave and half the ridge above it had been blasted into the air. We quickly moved into
a position where we could observe the crossing and waited for someone to come along and investigate
the explosion. About 15 minutes later, we heard voices on the trail behind us. About that time
our radio came on and the CO told us that we had to get out of the area fast. It seems that the
ArcLight was on it's was into the area and they were targeted on the ridge line just across the
valley from us. That meant we would be unsafe where we were, but we did not
dare move until the
trail was clear. I asked if they could delay for a few minutes and he said they had to drop on
time because of fuel loads. We were caught in our own trap. We could not move through the thick jungle without being
detected and besides it would take us too long to cut our way up the ridge through the jungle.
If we moved up the trail before the NVA passed us, we would have to shoot our way through and
we had no idea how many there might be, plus they would be up hill from us. We had no choice.
We had to wait for the trail to clear and if we waited that long, we might as well wait a few
minutes longer and blow the bridge ambush as well. It was amazing the things that went through our
minds in the quiet as we waited for the enemy to pass. Just as they got past us, a FAC flew over
and the NVA scattered off the trail, coming frightening close to our position. We were sweating
bullets as the arrival of the FAC aircraft meant the B-52's couldn't be far behind. After what
seemed like hours, the NVA began down the trail again. As I watched, one approached the bridge
alone moving carefully over to the opposite side. I just knew he would spot the detcord and
explosives in the morning light, but he didn't and soon reappeared to wave his
We waited until the lead soldier was just stepping off the bridge with all seven of the others
on it, before we blew the explosives. I guess we hadn't thought about the power of the explosives
we had planted. When it went up, there was sharp crack from the detcord ending in the boom of the
C-4 and a combination of pure white and dark black smoke roiling up into the sky. The bridge was
completely gone, pieces of vegetation raining down even on top of us. We stood there frozen in
horror and fascination for what seemed like a long time, then I remembered the ArcLight and told
everyone to start back up the trail. I ran the fifty meters to the bridge to check for bodies and
weapons, but found nothing. No weapons, no bodies, or body parts, nothing but shredded
I was a little stunned by the scene. Then I ran hard as I could up to the squad, grabbed my pack
from the soldier who had been carrying it for me and we all moved at the limit of our endurance back
up the trail. About 100 meters from the top we had to stop to catch our breath, when we
saw the FAC drop several smoke rounds along the opposite ridge. Moving as one being, we jumped up
all fatigue washed away by adrenalin and double timed to the top of the ridge line. When we got to
the top, we just dove into the jungle on the other side and struggled about thirty meters down the
slope before total exhaustion overcame us. As we lay there panting, sprawled where ever we had
fallen, the CO came over the radio. No one, including myself could stop gasping for air long enough
to answer him. Finally after his 5th call, I drug myself over to the RTO and took the handset,
laying on my back, handset on the ground next to my ear and answered. He was panicked.
He wanted to know where we were. I told him we had made it to the far side of the ridge line, then
the ArcLight began! We felt the concussion wave first, then heard the thunder. Just as the shock
of that was beginning to sink in, the most incredible thing happened that I have ever experienced.
As I lay there, the CO still trying to get me to talk to him on the radio, the ground actually
moved up and down a good couple of inches, like a wave rippling across a lake. It was terrifying!
I felt a momentary wave of dizziness and nausea. My eyes went out of focus. I was totally
disoriented. Then it passed and I could hear the CO frantically trying to make contact. We
felt many other less intense tremors, but not as bad as that first one. Everyone was dead still and
totally silent. We just sat there stunned, thankful that we weren't still over there. I think
the totality of what was happening over there began to sink into our minds. I got back on the radio
and told the CO that we were OK and let him know about the ambush. He seemed very
relived that we
were safe and extremely pleased about the 8 KIA's from the ambush. I told him that we would start back
to his location as soon as we had caught our breath. The next 15 minutes, we all just lay there, resting, all of us lost in deep thought about the reality of what had just happened. When we
finally saddled up and started back to the company, it was a very deliberate, very quiet walk. I
think the enormity of that mission affected us all on a very personal level.
7 NOV 1968
The 5 1/4 truck in front of me in the convoy got hit by a command detonated land mine. I ran up during the ensuing
fire fight to help the driver. I found him lying on the side of the road dead, but with no visible wounds. When I
attempted to roll him over, I almost threw up. It felt like he was just a blow up doll full of water. The concussion
from the landmine, had pulverized every bone in his body. It took four of us to roll him onto a poncho so we could
lift him into another truck for the ride to the Graves Registration tent. If I keep running the road by myself so much,
I could very well end up just like him.
8 NOV 68
CIB, Combat Infantryman's Badge..
9 NOV 68
9 NOV 68
12 NOV 68
12 NOV 68
In field with company again, found tunnel complex with 82mm and 75 RR
positions, probably ones that have been hitting
13 NOV 1968
Appointed ---Appointed Executive Officer, B/1/8, after only 3 months as 1st Platoon Leader.
Since taking over as XO, I have been busy scrounging up $17,000 worth of equipment that the company has lost track of,
trying to get it all accounted for and documented properly. I stay VERY, VERY busy as XO to the company commander. I get
on the average 3 or 4 letters a day from people about unpaid bills, lost records, lost mail, finance actions,
congressional inquiries, etc. I also have to try court martial cases for the company as prosecutor, handle supply
problems, schedule choppers for Company moves, deliver payroll, supervise the company base trains staff, answer letters
from mom's and wives about soldiers, who won't send any money home, tracking down records, investigating accidents,
running errands for the CO, and answering inquiries from Captain Booth - Battalion XO, Major Prom - Battalion S2,
Colonel Olds - Battalion Commander, Battalion staff, Brigade staff and a host of other people wanting to know the
why, when, and wherefore, of this and that. Some of the letters I get are about people and events from as far back as
early 1967, more than a year since I even got in country.
17 NOV 68
I just got my OER from Captain Brennan for my time as 1st Platoon Leader. He ranked me 1st out of the four platoon
leaders and 97 out of 100 fellow officers. Just about as good as you can get.
18 NOV 68
I have been running the highway almost daily, getting the company prepared for the IG inspection. I often have to
run the dusty road between Division Base Camp at Pleiku and the forward company trains area in Dak To. Most of the
time I try to travel with the regular convoy, with it's gun trucks and helicopter escort, but lately have had to
take the 3 to 4 hour, 80 mile trip over mined dirt roads in a jeep all alone. I frequently get sniped at with
AK-47's and B-40 rockets.
24 NOV 68
Now that the rain has stopped, the roads are covered in 2 inches of
extremely fine red dust. When I make the run from Pleiku to Dak To, I leave a
dust trail that is a quarter mile long, when there is no breeze. I got my orders, confirming my
Combat Infantryman's Badge
yesterday, for the action on
FSB-29 during September. As I came back from Dak To yesterday with the convoy, some idiot pulled a jeep out of line, when we
slowed down for the MP's to
check out a possible landmine location, and he hit a mine on the side of the road. He wasn't hurt bad, because it was a
bouncing Betty antipersonnel
mine and the engine shielded him from the shrapnel.
Since January 1961 31,000 US servicemen died in Viet Nam with over 200,000 wounded.
Nearly half those killed died in 1968.
4 Dec 68
25 Dec 68
Our mess hall burned down
here at Pleiku base camp last night. It sure burned fast. One of the stoves blew up and started the fire. No one was hurt though.
We're still working in and around Dak To, Kontum, and areas just North of Pleiku.
1 Jan 69
I have most of the Companies inventory,
morning report, payroll,
and other documentation caught up and correct now. We just had our courtesy
IG inspection. They really
tore the battalion up back in Pleiku, but didn't inspect
us out here at all in company
trains at Forward Support Base One at Dak To, so I'll just have to keep working till February and hope they will find B Company
ready by then. I had to take seven
worth over $3,000 each and classified Top Secret, out to the Company today, plus I was carrying $30,000 in payroll
in my rucksack.
I got stuck on a 4-day march, while paying the company because I couldn't get a
chopper out because we were on the
4 Jan 69
I'm doing well as XO, so far. My biggest flaw right now is personal appearance. I need to get my fatigues
laundered and tags and insignia sewn on, since the Colonel expects his base camp commando's to look sharp. I
will also have a bill for my room cleaning and laundry services in the BOQ at Pleiku. I need to get a brief
case to keep my paperwork from getting dirty. I hope to get a company when the senior lieutenants leave. There
are only four 1st Lt's senior to me in the battalion right now and they are all commanding line companies, so I might
get some command in even before I make Captain. You won't believe it, but I was assigned an engineer Lt., but the CO
said he did not really need him in the field, so I asked him to build us a shower for the BOQ. He rigged us a system
to make 500 gallons of hot running water a day from diesel fuel burning in a 4 inch pipe with some 55 gallon drums
forming a water jacket to feed the heated water by convection up into an old aircraft wing drop tank mounted on the
roof of the shower shed. Imagine that, a hot shower! Boy am I a hit around here. Every unit in base camp has sent
someone around to check out our setup.
6 Jan 69
Newspaper article on my receipt of the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Army press release on my receipt of CIB.
11 Jan 69
12 Jan 69
SGT Francis Xavier DeVille with B/1/8 killed by small arms fire.
18 Jan 69
SP4 James Daniel Holt killed small arms fire, while on patrol with B/1/8.
25 January 1969
Viet Nam peace talks open in Paris.
28 JAN 69
I just got another Company Commander, Capt James De Roos. Capt Brennan gave me a second good a
OER before he
left. Several members of Bravo Company are in the
trains area being
treated for punji stake
29 JAN 1969
The weather is dry right now that red mud is now fine red Pleiku dust. The ground is covered with a layer of about
2 or 3 inches of a red dust so fine that you can't squeeze a hand full of it, cause it leaks out from between your
fingers, like water. It's everywhere, and it's finer than dry talcum powder. I've seen a chopper come into Dak To FSB and
the rotor blades kicked up so much dust that it covered the entire Dak To perimeter. We are now working around
VC Valley, near Fire Base Black Hawk.
5 FEB 69
I had to take a platoon of clerks and other desk types out to cordon and search a village. It came off fairly well,
except that one guy had a heart attack from the heat and the physical exhaustion of the march. I got a sunburned
face, eye lids and all. Wow does that smart. I am so pooped right now I can hardly think straight. After marching till
we were ready to drop from the heat, the trucks that were supposed to bring us back
were diverted for another mission and
we had to walk about 10 klicks
back to Pleiku. Just 5 more days to the IG. inspection and I think we are ready at last.
6 FEB 69
19 FEB 1969
Awarded Air Medal for making 25 combat air assault landings under enemy fire during period of
20 AUG 68 - 19 FEB 69.
23 February 1969
Viet Cong attack 110 targets throughout Viet Nam.
Task Force Alpha on Hill 467
as part of
Operation Wayne Grey
Infantry Division, II Corp, Vietnam
1 MAR 69 - 14 APR 69
Col Hale H. Knight, Commanding
1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
Allen M. Buckner,
1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment
Story told by Homer R. Steedly Jr. - Age 22, 1st Lieutenant, Bravo Company, Executive Officer,
and later Acting Company Commander on Hill 467, serving with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment.
Helicopter Support by 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion,
119th Assault Helicopter Company.
Losses During Operation Wayne Grey
Enemy - 575 KIA, 4 POW
- 106 KIA
,437 WIA, 8 MIA.
Fighting against the 66 and 24th NVA Regiments.
Click map icon to see large map of battle area.
As I write this account of Task Force Alpha and the life and death struggles on Hill 467, I am once again struck by the courage of
the NVA soldiers who attacked
us in the face of such overwhelming air superiority. I regret meeting such brave people only under such tragic circumstances. May we
all live to see the day, when war is only a distant historical concept and strangers no longer have to kill each other out of fear.
I arrived in Viet Nam in mid August of 1968 during the Pleiku monsoon season. I have very few clear memories of my first
six months in country as first platoon leader of Bravo Company, 1/8th, 4th Infantry Division, under Captain Brennan's
capable leadership. He teamed me up with SFC Downey, an experienced NCO, who as
my Platoon Sergeant, showed the ropes and taught me much about leadership and
jungle warfare. Mostly I remember being wet most of the time and covered in that red Pleiku mud, then later, around
December, when the monsoon quit and things began to dry out, being very hot, covered in fine red dust, thirsty, and
exhausted most of the time from climbing up and down the mountains with my 90 pound rucksack, in temperatures hovering
between 90 and 110 + degrees Fahrenheit, with highs above 115 degrees. We generally spent most of our time stomping around
the jungle, then setting up camp and sending out small
or recon patrols into the surrounding
free fire zones.
We usually moved 6 to 10
Klicks a day.
We would move to or cut an LZ
out of the jungle, every 3 to 5 days to permit a
to land and take personnel out or deliver replacements, chow, mail, water, clean clothes, ammo, etc. Everyone
carried about a weeks worth of chow, 4 to 6 quarts of water, and as much ammo as they could. We would replenish our
water at every stream we crossed, putting bleach flavored purification tablets in it. Every 6 to 8 weeks, we would get to
return to the relative safety of the battalion base camp for perimeter guard duty, and some hot meals. Sleeping in a
sandbag bunker ain't much to brag about, but it beats sleeping in the rain and mud, wrapped up in ponchos, fighting leeches,
mosquitoes so thick you choked on them, and ants. Mostly I remember growing up real fast. Thank goodness I had Captain
Brennan to keep me from making too many deadly mistakes, before I learned what to expect. I guess the Hill 467 and Task
Force Alpha experience began for me, when Captain Brennan left in late 1968, and Captain James DeRoos took over Bravo
company. Bear with me while I go through some of that time, so you will understand my state of mind upon landing in the
middle of the chaos and terror of TFA, wearing the starched
spit shined boots of a base camp warrior.
27 FEB 1969
1st Battalion, 8th Infantry convoyed to Polei Kleng. B Company assigned to 2cd Brigade on
FSB-34, near Ben Het
Special Forces Camp.
1 March 1969
B/1/8 CA's into FSB-20
providing security for Bn Tactical Operations Center
(TOC) and security patrols
into the surrounding area, with another platoon on 15 minute standby as the Bn
ready reaction force.
2 March 1969
French-British Concorde takes it's first flight. Company B secures A Battery, 6/29th Artillery at
3 MAR 1969
B Company providing security for 6/29th and sending out two platoon sized
ambush patrols daily.
A/3/8th had a heavy contact
and nearly got wiped out.
4 MAR 1969
At 0850 hours, the air strip at Polei Kleng received 14 rounds of 122mm rocket fire, which destroyed the
artillery resupply Class V waiting on the helicopter pad to be airlifted to the firebases.
5 MAR 69
Lt. George Callan was killed while attempting to get a machine gun back into action. A true tragedy! I was drinking with
him in the BOQ at base camp just a few nights ago. His brother had come to visit with him. George was worried
about leaving his troops alone in the field. He is one of those officers who worries more about his men than his own
welfare. He is outgoing and has a great sense of humor. Everyone feels at ease when he is around. I linked up with him
twice in the field when my platoon was assigned to reinforce his Charlie company.
He was constantly on the move, checking
on his men and double checking everything. He stayed up most of the night checking the perimeter to make sure someone was
always awake and alert. His men spoke highly of him. He was the kind of officer that led by example, not command. He
always did what needed to be done, damn the consequences. I will always respect his memory. I am very glad to have had
those few moments to get to know Lt. Callan. The 8th Infantry motto is Steadfast and Loyal. George was both. It is the
tragic legacy of war that such truly great spirits are lost to a generation. George was a brave young man, who will always
live in the memory of those of us who had the privilege of serving with him.
Click here to go to guest book entry from
6 MAR 69
6 MAR 69
It has rained twice this month already, so I guess the monsoon must be on it's way at last. I don't know whether
I'll be glad to see the dust stop, or mad at the return of the mud. At least it should cool off some with the rain.
"Bravo" Company is around
TOC as perimeter guards again.
I might get home by June.
8 MAR 1969
D Company joins Bravo on
and provides local security for artillery battery, and platoon sized
14 MAR 1969
B and D Company continue to work out of
so far no significant activity.
15 March 1969
A & C/1/8th moved onto Hill 467 (YB803034) and became Task Force Alpha. The terrain was triple canopy jungle, top
layer consisting of 150' trees, with deep slopes and steep hills. Weather was mostly clear except for ground haze.
17 MAR 69
B and D Companies are on
FSB-20 providing RIF and
local security. I was B Company XO at this time and spent most of my time running base camp trains and doing paperwork for the CO.
I also delivered payroll to the troops both in the base camp trains area and to the troops in the field. Most soldiers had an
allotment sent home, but received some pay themselves. Very few had everything sent home. I delivered the pay stubs and the appropriate
amount of MPC to each soldier. I also handled allotments, saving bonds, and promotion pay change
documents. I would pay the base camp personnel first, then catch the next available aircraft to the field and pay the troops there.
I went to the field this time on a resupply chopper to Firebase 20, the Bn CP, where B Company was providing security and running
ambush patrols into the surrounding area. I fully expected to get everyone paid and return on the last bird out that day,
therefore I carried only my briefcase full of payroll documents and MPC and my .45 cal sidearm. I had no field gear. When I arrived
I found that the CO had sent out two squad sized ambush patrols, who would not be back until the next morning, so I had to spend the
night at Firebase 20.One of the ambushes detected a large size unit moving along the trail they had setup on for their night
ambush, but did not spring their ambush for fear of being out gunned. The other ambush squad returned to the firebase and I paid them,
but the Bn CO told CPT DeRoos to send the rest of second platoon out to join up with it's ambush squad and set up a platoon sized ambush to try to intercept
the large unit that night. Since I still needed to pay the squad out on the ambush site and plans called for the second
platoon to move to an LZ the following day for extraction to another area for some road reconnaissance, I decided to go along
with them, make the payroll, assist in the ambush, and return to base camp with one of the choppers taking the platoon to the
road recon mission. We made contact with the ambush squad, who had moved back from the proposed night ambush location, so as
not to give their intentions away. I paid the remaining soldiers as we stopped for lunch and waited for late afternoon.
Our intention was to move into the night ambush location just before dark, so the chance of being discovered getting into
position would be reduced. The ambush location was about 6 Klicks from Firebase 20.
We set out for our night ambush location about two hours before dusk, taking
over hour to reach it. We were getting into position and beginning to dig
in, when the three guys assigned to the listening post, who would alert us to the arrival of the enemy, started moving along
the trail to their position. They had gotten only about 50 meters away from the ambush location, when they ran into an NVA
unit moving along the trail. Shots were fired, resulting in two wounded. The platoon leader moved the platoon up and
recovered the wounded without further contact with the enemy. A scouting patrol followed the enemy for about 200 meters,
reporting some blood trails, but no sign of the enemy. I remember one guy had a sucking chest wound and had lost a lot of
blood. I do not remember what the other soldier's injury was, but both had to be transported by improvised stretcher.
It was solid ground fog up to tree top level, so helicopter evacuation was out of the question. It was too far to return to
Firebase 20, which was also socked in by cloud cover, so we had to setup for the night. We stayed on alert all night,
fully expecting an attack, which never came.
18 March 1969
At daylight the decision was made to continue to the pick up point for the day's extraction to the road recon mission,
since it was closer than Firebase 20. I left on the chopper with the wounded and got off at
when they stopped to refuel. I found out that they were headed to An Khe and I needed to catch a chopper out heading
back to Pleiku to turn in payroll and join up with the detached platoon headed to road recon in the Mang Yang Pass. On
the way to the resupply helipad, I almost got shot by a kid who went crazy and started shooting at everyone. I was walking
down the road when he fired several rounds in my direction. He had already killed his pay officer and wounded the First
Sergeant, but I didn't know that yet. He was babbling on about his pay being screwed up. As we talked, both of us with
loaded rifles leveled at each other, I thought that one or both of would be dead before the conversation ended. Finally
I convinced him that things were not beyond hope and that if he just put his rifle down and let the MP's take him into
custody, that everything would work out. I told him to look around at all the people pointing weapons at him and calm down. I started walking toward him and when I got about ten feet from him, he finally put the rifle down and raised his
hands. The MP's jumped him roughly and handcuffed him. I told them to take it easy on him, because he had probably seen
far too much combat, and they relaxed and quietly led him to a jeep and took him away. I continued to the helipad to try to
catch a bird back to Pleiku. At our trains area, I finished payroll and joined the
platoon waiting to go to the Mang Yang Pass for the road recon. Since this platoon did not have any officer, I decided to go
out on the patrol with them.
We caught choppers to a valley on the Pleiku side of the pass and were let off with orders to recon along the left side
of the road, clearing the entire ridge line through the pass. As we approached the end of the ridge line, it was obvious
that the slope was too steep to climb in the heat, so we moved up the road through the pass looking for a better way up
to the top of the ridge. We came around a sharp turn with concrete slabs to prevent erosion and landslides, with steps
up the middle. Everyone was exhausted and overheated from the march, so I had them move off the sides of the road and
take a break, while I ran up the steps and checked to see how the climbing would be from there. It was still too
steep, so we headed further up the pass. About two klicks further, we decided it wasn't going to get much better, so we
headed up the side of the ridge. I had spotted a tree on the top that stood out nearly fifty feet taller than any
other tree in the canopy. We headed for that tree, intending to turn left and check out the first part of the ridge, then
retrace our steps and continue towards the An Khe side of the pass. There was a well worn trail on the top of the
ridgeline, so we knew it was being used regularly. When we got to where we could see the valley floor again, we
turned around and made haste to return over the trail we had just cleared back to the point where we had begun at the
tall tree. Just short of the tree, we stopped and took a water and rest break. We just moved a few meters
off the trail on either side and dropped our packs and lay down. I had rear security out, but no point security,
except for the point man, who was facing forward. As I walked up to the front of the column checking on the condition
of the troops, I spoke to the point man, who turned to face me. It was at that moment that Dam rounded the trail
and walked straight into us. He was very, very, young. He had on a clean pith helmet and freshly starched khaki NVA
Regular uniform, which was hard to comprehend given the deep red clay mud we were all covered with. The
SKS rifle he was
carrying still had storage grease around the bayonet hinge. He had just rounded a turn in the trail with his rifle slung
over his shoulder, when he saw me he and attempted to fire at me. I shouted
the only phrase I knew to get him to surrender, but he continued to draw down on me. I fired just before he got
his rifle leveled on me. If I had not been so scared, I might have had the presence of mind to just wound him,
but in my adrenalin rush panic, I killed him with a quick three round burst, one shot through his heart. We did not want
to haul Dam's body down to the road, and did not know how far down the ridgeline we might have to go before we could get
to an LZ, so we just took his personal documents and weapon with us to send back to the Bn S-2 section for evaluation, when
we reached the next LZ.
20 March 1969
After another days march, we were extracted from a small LZ on the ridge late in the afternoon and second platoon joined
up with the rest of B Company for the road interdiction and recon mission. I rode one of the choppers back to the trains
area and sent the weapon and documents to S-2. The road interdiction mission later led to our first MIA's and we
eventually ended up on Hill 467, where I assumed command from the wounded CPT DeRoos as part of Task Force Alpha. Back
in the trains area, I contacted the Bn S2 officer and requested the documents and rifle as mementos of the war. The
rifle was kept at Bn, but the documents were eventually returned to me and I sent
them home to my Mom to hold until I returned home.
21 MAR 1969
B Company joins Task Force Alpha on Hill 467. A/1/8 returns to
FSB-20. One platoon marches
overland from ambush location
to Hill 467, with B Company minus joining them on Hill 467 by helicopter later in the day. Company B minus moved to place where A Company
had contact previous day,
but made no contact and
instead ended up blowing up 11 bunkers at coordinate YB 812048.
22 MAR 1969
Company B minus blew
abatis at coordinates 815042.
23 MAR 1969
Company B minus conducted reconnaissance sweep to vicinity 821037, 825024.Companies 24 element made enemy
contact 350 meters west of
Task Force Alpha's location. Mortars from TFA and Spooky gunship employed.
24 March 1969
Result: 1 US
KIA, 8 US
Hill 467 receiving artillery, mortar, sniper, and
rocket along east and west perimeter. Sweeps result in 1
Company B minus sent two platoons and CP on mission to construct
abatis vicinity YB 788023.
Mission not accomplished. Company B minus set up night location YB 797023.The 23 Platoon had light
NVA at approximately the
same area as the previous night's
gun ships were employed,
resulting in 1 NVA
KIA and one US
WIA from gunship
fire, who was later extracted from TFA's location.
During a RIF
mission thirteen miles NW of Dak To, on a road going into Laos, B/1/8 made
contact and had several
minor wounded, who stayed with the company. PFC Hicks was one of the wounded, Coordinates 144018N 1073621E (YB805235).
25 March 1969
Company B minus left night position for a mission to destroy the road vicinity YB 794020, after completing mission,
they were hit by platoon of NVA
at YB795020 at around 12:15 hours.
Contact broken at 12:30 and
re-engaged around 1413, resulting in 5
KIA, 2 US
KIA, 11 US
WIA, AND 6 US
MIA. B/1/8 again makes enemy
contact while moving to
ground. Five men lost, PFC's Miles B. Hedglin and Phillip E. Lynch, were killed in action. PFC's Prentice W. Hicks, Richard D. Roberts,
and Frederick D. Herrera, missing in action.PFC Herrera was our combat engineer.PFC Roberts was one of the wounded from the engagement
the day before. It is thought, that the three became missing when Roberts and Herrera stayed behind with the wounded Hicks as the unit
moved off the hill. Enemy took control of the hilltop and no search could be made of the area again until April 5th, after the Task Force
Alpha battle. The recon team who searched the hill found personal effects belonging to Hicks and Herrera, but no bodies were ever
recovered. All three were declared missing in action. Task Force Alpha on Hill 467 getting attacked by small arms and
Attack results in 5 NVA
KIA, 1 US
KIA, and 13 US
WIA. Company B's 21 and 22
elements located at TFA received
rockets and small arms fire at 07:00.
air strikes, and mortar fire were used against enemy in the open.
Results of action:13 US WIA,
1 US KIA, 2
KIA, with 3 more
KIA believed, 1
AK-47 recovered. At
approximately 07:00 hours the LP
on West side of perimeter of TFA observed 3 individuals to west. The
LP returned to perimeter and
mortars were employed. A recon squad was sent out to check the area. Three to five
NVA took the recon patrol under
fire approximately 25 meters outside TFA perimeter. The
point man was wounded, but
the patrol could not get to him, so they employed fire and maneuver to return to the perimeter. A
reaction force was hastily
organized and sent to recover the wounded man, but came immediately under mortar and small arms fire, and were forced to return to the
perimeter with their own wounded. The area was raked by machine gun, M-79 and M-16 fire. A small maneuver element was sent along the North
side of the saddle,
where they received B-40 and
AK-47 fire from three different locations
along the saddle while recovering the wounded man. When all elements had returned to the perimeter, gun ships were
employed. They received ground fire from four different locations, NW, W, SW, and S of the TFA perimeter. Additional
air sorties were called in, including A1E fighters and 8 sorties of jets. Results: 2
NVA KIA and two of the enemy
positions silenced. Medevac to Company B minus to extract wounded received ground fire, taking several hits. Resupply
chopper also took a hit.
Probing of TFA perimeter continued all night. Spooky gunship stayed on position all night in support of B Company. Hill 467 continued
to receive intermittent 60mm and 82mm mortar fire.
26 March 1969
B/1/8 evacuated 7 WIA
vicinity 805026, then linked up with D/1/8 and returned to Hill 467. C Company secured the southern
part of the TFA perimeter while D Company assisted B Company minus return to TFA. On the move back to Hill 467, 3 of the
6 MIA rejoined Company B
minus. Shortly after B and D Companies returned to Task Force Alpha, Hill 467 began receiving
intense small arms, B-40,
mortar, and 105 artillery fires, which lasted sporadically all afternoon. Alligator 110 attempting
a landing at TFA location was hit with small arms fire as he sat down on the pad.
B-40 rockets were fired
from the West
into the vicinity of the pad. Dust-off 52 also received ground fire and the gunship escorting them received rounds as well.
All during this time the enemy fired 5
B-40 rounds, 6-82mm mortar
rounds, and sporadic small arms into the perimeter.
Shortly after this attack, TFA began receiving incoming 105mm artillery rounds from enemy positions near the border. By
18:45 hours, over 44 rounds landed. Results: 1 US
KIA, 5 US
D companies 23 element made
contact 200 meters SE
TFA, while moving out on SRP.
They encountered an enemy squad at 810034.Results: 1 US
NVA KIA. Mortars from TFA
were used and 23 broke contact,
moving to a different night location.TFA perimeter probed all night.
27 March 1969
Task Force Alpha still getting small arms and
B-40 rocket rounds, peak during
the extraction of D/1/8 to FSB-27.
Early afternoon of 27 March 1969, my
CO, Capt. James W. DeRoos, came
in from hill 467 with a leg wound. I took the same "
bird" out to the hill, but almost couldn't land because of ground fire. I found Lt James
Keane, in charge of the 62 men left from Bravo Company on Hill 467, saddling up for a recon with his platoon and second
platoon. I found that I would be left with seventeen able bodied men and myself, to man half of the hill. Charlie
company was holding the other half, but refused to take over any more ground. Lt. Keane, with the company CP and
the 22 and 23 platoons were on a recon mission East of TFA. The CP was located with the 23 platoon at night location
822023, while the 22 platoon chose 828037 for its night location. The recon patrol employed three
821031, 829038, and 804036.I also sent out a
SRP near TFA perimeter.
Company C left on recon in force to location
800033, location of Company B minus
contact day before, came
under sniper fire from their front and left flanks,
with B-40 rockets and snipers
along their right front. Company C pulled back to employ artillery, when they started
receiving 105 mm artillery from the enemy. A total of 15 rounds chased them back into TFA perimeter. Results: 4
KIA with no US casualties. Artillery employed on enemy gun vicinity 725071 with one gun destroyed, confirmed by
Hummingbird 5.At 14:30 C Company again attempted to move to location of Company B minus previous
contact. About 300
meters outside the perimeter they received 3-82 mm mortar rounds adjusted onto their position. They returned to TFA
and gun ships were sent to
the area of the suspected enemy FO position, one of the
gun ships was hit by ground
fire. Artillery and mortars were targeted on the area of C Companies contact, with unknown results, since there was
insufficient time remaining before dark to permit another patrol. While C Company was in
contact, an artillery
round was fired on TFA position, which contained leaflets exhorting US soldiers to come over to the
Company C 22 platoon experienced heavy movement SE of TFA around20:20 hours. They fired their
claymores and pulled
back into the perimeter. Mortars were employed on the suspected location of 3
NVA with unknown results.
C Company 22 element moved back to a new location near their old one and resumed surveillance. C Company deployed a total of 4
to SE, S, SW, and E of TFA position. This photo
is the front and back of the leaflets they shot over
28 March 1969
After another sleepless night, everyone was suffering from exhaustion. I had to move from position to position
constantly throughout the night to keep enough people awake to maintain any semblance of guard. The next morning a
rocket round exploded into the ground by a small fire I had built for destroying some used PRC-25 batteries. I was knocked
down, almost gently, by the concussion, but not hurt, all the shrapnel going behind me. It happened so fast that no
one saw where it came from, so we simply made an 81mm mortar
mission around the perimeter about 50 meters out. This is dangerous, since we had to fire with zero charge, which is inherently
risky because the power output from using only the igniter only is variable and the high angle of fire required to bring the
shells in so close, results in rounds landing inside the perimeter sometimes. From 10:00 on the 28th to dark, is all kind of
fuzzy. During that time, we received 127 rounds of 105mm howitzer, in addition to numerous 60 mm and 82 mm mortar rounds inside
our 50-meter circle of positions. My fighting position took a direct hit, shattering Ryan's forearm, completely deafening,
SSG Bruchen, my only NCO
above E-5 and completely deafening my left ear and creating a very loud ringing in both. (The ruptured eardrum is what later let to the award of the purple heart.)
I had been kicked in the back, and drenched in Ryan's blood, so I ran in panic to the Task Force CP bunker, to
get someone to see if I had been hit the back and to let them know what had happened, then I left to find Ryan. He was
running around screaming and holding his shattered elbow on the other side of our sector, going into shock rapidly. I
ran to the get our Medic, Doc Gehringer, and got him to attend to Ryan. In
spite of the continuing shelling, Doc stayed above ground working on Ryan until
he had him stabalized, as I began
my perimeter check and forced those with no overhead cover, to get out between rounds and build some
overhead sand bag
protection. I returned to my position to see if a Medevac was going to make it in to pick up Ryan, but they said they
couldn't risk one at that time. Later in the day, a Medevac was able to pick up Ryan, without incident. A resupply
also made it in and out with out incident. The supplies consisted of grenades, which we had crates of already and
didn't need and some LRP's, freeze dried food, which we don't have water to prepare in the first place. I had told
my people we needed water and machine gun ammo. I later found out that the Bn
CO had directed
the loading of the first
thinking the LRP's would be a treat for us. My people expected to send what I had requested out on the return trip, but
ground fog prevented it. Water critical by now. Five people in Charlie Company and one of mine now completely out of
their heads from thirst. Every one of the 4 inch bamboo left standing by the incoming has a hole drilled in every
segment, hoping to find a few drops of water. An enemy 105 round killed someone from Charlie Company. The death really
hurt morale, because we all knew we could be next and there wasn't anything we could do to stop it. Three days without
water or sleep for most of us, and it was beginning to tell in the heat. That night was no better, two serious
from grenades. Mortars got the
NVA, but then
we had to listen to them moaning all night until they died, one by one. We
had a serious attack all around the perimeter around midnight. Some even made it into the perimeter. We
wound up calling in
Puff the Magic Dragon
, an AC-130 ship to hose down the perimeter around midnight. With 200,000
candle power flares and mini-guns able to spit out 6,000 rounds per minute (every 4th one a red tracer) the enemy attack
came to a sudden halt. We kept getting
fire and grenades sporadically all night. I moved around our sector,
redistributing ammo and grenades, trying to keep someone awake at each position, and letting everyone know the current
situation. I tried to get some sleep around 2:30 am, but the mortar and grenades kept me from sleeping. I spent several
hours digging into the hard packed red clay and rocks with my bayonet, trying to get my fox hole big enough to stretch
out some and deep enough provide some protection against shrapnel from the tree nearby tree bursts. I remember sitting
in my fox hole for a few minutes rest around 3:00am and looking up to see a single bright star through the jungle canopy,
and realizing for the first time, that I would probably not make it off this hill alive. It was then that I prayed. It's
true: There are no atheists in fox holes. I still do not know exactly which of the many deities I prayed to answered
but am certain that one of them did. It's the only explanation for the fact that I got off 467 alive.
Today's Results: 1 US KIA,
4 US WIA.
29 MAR 1969
On the 29th I got two close calls that by all rights should have finished me off, both while checking the
perimeter. One time an 82mm mortar round landed about ten feet behind me and knocked me down. Not a scratch!
Later a 60mm mortar round landed about three feet in front of me, again, no wounds. The 60mm left a hole about two
hands wide, with its tail fin sitting right in the center of it still smoking. This is our fourth day without food
or water. Morgan went berserk and had to be tied up to keep him from trying to drink from a canister of diesel fuel.
On most encampments, where we stayed for several nights, the supply
would bring us fresh water in empty ammo tubes, and Morgan truly believed, in his delirium, that the liquid in the
diesel fuel ammo tube was water. There was much talk of trying to leave the hill to get water, even though it would
probably be suicidal. We had heavy movement around the perimeter all morning. Early in the afternoon, Keane came back
with his two platoons and a little extra water from a stream. Everyone got a small drink. Morale is better now, with
talk of final extraction attempt around noon tomorrow.
brought in supplies and took out three wounded and the seven bodies stacked up on the
pad like cord wood.
Warning, skip beyond section in italics if you don't want to read gruesome
details of combat.
The story will still be complete without it.
The bodies smelled real bad, with flies and maggots all over them. Lying around in the 95 to 100 degree
heat had them ll bloated from decomposition. It made you sick when the odor first drifted your way. I was leaning back against the
stack of bodies, attempting to eat some
as I waited for the supply
chopper to take out
the wounded and the bodies, prior to our final extraction. I was so exhausted from a pounding dehydration headache, that I didn't have
the strength to go somewhere else and then come running back when the
choppers arrived. So
exhausted, in fact, that I did not even think about the significance of where I had chosen to sit down. One of my guys had to be
dragged off a bird to let the wounded get on, when the first
chopper landed. He was
hysterical with fear, as were most of us by now. I was helping the door gunner load the bodies onto the next
when the poncho blew back, revealing the guy's head, with maggots squirming in the goo, that had once been his eyes. The door gunner
fell to his knees and began projectile vomiting. One of my guys helped me get the body on the
chopper and then we both
dragged the door gunner back to his ride.
We received an additional 19
B-40 rockets, 12-60 mm mortar
rounds, and one ChiCom grenade
within our perimeter during the afternoon, from the NE, E, S, SW and W of our perimeter. With Keane back, I try to get some sleep for
the first time in three days, but I am soon awakened by more grenades and kept up all night. In the early morning hours,
we could hear bodies being dragged through the jungle. We could also hear sounds of digging very near our positions.
We used mortars throughout the night on suspected enemy positions. When we heard the digging, we called in a
Spooky 22 minigun ship to hose down the jungle within 30 meters of the entire perimeter. We used flashlights in our
foxholes to mark our perimeter. Even knowing they were on our side, the volume of fire from Spooky, at that close
a range is terrifying. Results: 5
NVA KIA, 3 US
30 March 1969
I am so exhausted now, that getting to my feet takes all my concerted will power and physical strength, then I
wobble around, stumbling to maintain my balance, until I get my head clear again. The least little thing will cause
me to lose my balance and fall down, and then I have to rest up and start all over again. I have a pounding dehydration
headache, like most everyone else. You should remember that I am at least three days fresher than most of my men. We
got word the Air Force had gotten the 105mm guns, that had been pounding us and the CA to Polei Kleng would begin at 0900.
Also got word of two reinforced
NVA companies headed our
way about ten Klicks out.
Charlie Company left first, and I had to shift my men to cover their positions, as best I could. I got shot at several times, while
moving around directing the withdrawal. The next to last bird left at 1200 hours, leaving four of us alone on the hill, me, my
RTO, Sgt Larry
Hanson, Lt. James Keane, and PFC Edwin Gehringer, our medic. The last bird started in on short final, and then pulled out
saying there were NVA
coming in all around the perimeter and he wouldn't come in. The four of us opened up with all we
could find to throw and shoot, praying nothing would hit the mortar pit full of ammo and explosives, where we had set
charges to destroy all the ammo left behind on the hill. I directed a cobra
gun ship to get an
especially pesky B-40
rocket position about fifty meters out and got him, but got badly burned on the neck by hot shrapnel from the
rockets. We decided that our only chance was to make a break for it off the north side of the hill and E&E out of the
area. Just as we started off the hill, four double deuce (the aircraft number was 422) called to say he was on his way
in to get us. He wasn't even with the lift that was extracting us, just coming back from some other routine resupply
mission and heard the radio chatter. I'm alive today, thanks to the incredible bravery of the pilots of 422. There were
NVA all around the perimeter
and they really gave us a send off, as we flew out. It looked like an angry anthill as we pulled out. I felt pretty good until I
looked at my rifle and found bullet scars in the hand guard and magazine guide, one more through my rucksack, right through the
radio, and the large crease in my
I am very proud of Bravo Company. We were all very lucky to get off hill 467 alive. Three
choppers and one gunship
were disabled by ground fire during the extraction. One of them was 422, who had to set down a couple of ridge lines over after
picking us up. We were picked up by another
chopper and they sent
a Chinook out to pick the bird up later that day. It's now five months later and my ears still ring extremely loudly. Doc says I'll
get a purple heart for the tinnitus. Company B and C moved overland from Polei Kleng to
FSB-McNerny.We arrived at
18:30 hours and assumed stand down status.
Newspaper article about my getting the Purple Heart.
Click on image to read Army Times article written about Task Force Alpha.
Most of my portion of this account was taken from hand written notes, dated Sunday 19 JUN 69, Pleiku, RVN.
Sections centered and in bold are from a myriad of other sources I have collected over the last quarter century, most
of the sources, long since forgotten. I do believe they are accurate, but if you remember it differently, please sign
in to the guest book and correct me. In the same vein, if I have stolen your words...just tell me and I will remove
them, or give you proper credit.
Pay Scale for American Participants in Action on Hill 467. You may have
to View at 150% to read it easily.
Junior Officers earned about a dollar an hour and most Enlisted Men around fifty cents an hour.
This was for 16-20 hour work day, seven days a week, risking life and limb, sleeping in the dirt, dying of thirst, and eating cold
carrying around 70 - 90 lbs of essential gear, in rain or heat often above 100 degrees. It has put any job I have had since then
in proper perspective.
2 April 1969
2 APR 69
It is now over forty years since these events took place, and I still find my muscles tensing and my
heart racing as I proof read this document. I still have the tinnitus in my ears from the artillery shell which
hit my fighting position on Hill 467.It is a loud constant ringing, like you get when a fire cracker goes off too
close to your ear. It is in the upper range of speech in frequency, and about as loud as someone blowing a police
whistle, as loud as they can, within a few inches of your face. Sometimes is causes me insomnia, but most of the
time it just makes life a little more difficult than it should be, because I have to concentrate so hard to
understand people, especially over the phone, or in noisy places like department stores or restaurants. I am also
completely deaf in the frequencies of Cicada's, tree frogs, and many of the other sounds of nature I loved so dearly.
Most of all I miss the sheer ecstasy of simple silence, which I have not known since 1969. In recent months, I have
finally had to begin using a hearing aid, since my high frequency loss has made it almost impossible to understand
strangers over the phone and difficult to understand anyone in a noisy environment.
Click Here for more details of
my hearing loss.
I have tried to recall this time as accurately as my own memories permit. If anyone can add to the account, please
use the guest book to contact me. With your permission I will expand this story through your additions. I would
especially like to hear from the enlisted men, who each and every one, certainly saw this action from very different
perspectives. I am still in awe of the fact that such brave young men saw fit to let me lead them and trusted me with
their very lives. The burden of such an awesome responsibility took a lot out of me. That is why it has taken me over
a quarter century to gather up the courage to recall these memories and share them with others. The deaths and injuries
incurred under my leadership still haunt my memories. I expect that they will be among the memories that flash before
me when I lie on my death bed. Somehow I feel guilty for having come back alive.
Robert Granger's Memories of and
Thoughts about Vietnam
He gives another view of the Task Force Alpha battle on Hill 467
First a special thank you to Homer Steedly Jr., (one
of my former Company Commanders in Vietnam), for providing me with names of
bases and dates of operations in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, especially in
the time frame of Task Force Alpha on Hill 467!
The year is 1968. I am 22 years old and I have had three draft physicals, since
graduating High School in 1964. All three have given me a
1Y 1 classification
, because of earlier
seizures (as a young teenager) and a motorcycle accident, that ruptured 3 disks
and split a lower vertebra. I am living in Lansing, MI with my parents, working
full time at a steel fabrication plant, but still hang out with my friends in my
hometown of Charlotte, MI. I am the proud owner of a new 1968 Pontiac, GTO. It’s
hot and a real girl getter.
A good friend, Mike Hill, was turned into the Draft Board by his ex-wife in
June. In early July, the young lady that I was dating was killed in a car
accident, along with another friend. The two other passengers were hurt quite
badly. My world was a bit topsy turvy. I had no direction in life, so I decided
to enlist in the voluntary draft on the buddy plan with my friend Mike. In late
July we went to the induction center in Detroit for our physicals. Mike had no
problems passing. I knew that if I told them I had been there three times
before, they would not pass me, so I lied through my teeth to pass, although I
think they were just looking for warm bodies by that time.
We entered into the Army in Detroit, MI in August of 1968 and had a long bus
ride to Fort Knox, KY. There were two young cousins from Detroit on the bus
(they joined the Army to avoid going to jail). They tried their best to
disassemble the bus on the trip down. These two hoodlums eventually became
decent individuals, with the help of SSG Lund, our Basic Training Drill
Instructor (5’ 3” tall and 3 tours in Vietnam as a LRRP).
Mike Hill, Larry Small, Tony Flora and I were made squad leaders. We had our own
room on the second floor of the old wooden barracks. We were given an arm band
with Corporal Stripes, to indicate we were squad leaders. Larry had a hard time
getting up in the morning. Once four of our biggest guys carried Larry, bunk and
all, down the stairs into the shower. Larry didn’t wake until the cold water was
Some of the guys that stick in my mind, Larry “Tiny” Gerou, they wanted to cycle
him through the fat farm, but he convinced them he could lose weight better with
us. Tiny had a severe stuttering problem, except when singing cadence. An
identical set of twins, Bob and Bill Moyer, who went into tug boat training
after Basic on the east coast, not far from their home town. Another unique
person was Ivan Ivanovich Korobeinikow. The DI’s couldn’t pronounce his name, so
they called him alphabet. He was born and raised in China. Of Russian descent
(his father worked for our government and was finally able to get his family
here). Ivan could write and speak Chinese, Russian and English. He told of
growing up in Northern China near Russia, going to school during good weather
and cutting wood all winter. Ivan looked exactly like what you would picture as
Russian, red hair, square jaw and a barrel chest, great guy. I would imagine he
went to work for the government after military training. Tony Flora, a good guy,
all business, when it came to training. Steve Ware, young black kid, well
spoken, good upbringing, wouldn’t shower, because he was too embarrassed to get
naked around all the guys. He was allowed to shower after everyone went to bed.
Another fellow was Max Tait from Lansing, MI. Max would pass out at the thought
of getting shots from the air powered injectors. He was fine until the guns
touched both arms. When he dropped, the guns cut both arms. The medics injected
him, while he was out. What a great mix of people, most all of them great guys.
Wonder how many are still with us?
SGT Lund was a unique person. He was only 5’ 3” tall, had a huge nose and
extremely long legs for his height. All of the other DI’s hated him for some
unknown reason. Our old barracks had to have the floors polished on a regular
basis and our buffer didn’t work. The other instructors would not let us use
theirs, so we used blankets to polish with. When we went to the range or into
the field for training, the other platoons rode a bus back to the barracks. We
had the pleasure of marching back. SGT Lund told us to not give it a second
thought, as a LRRP, I’m sure he knew those long marches would do us well. We did
get justice one hot afternoon. We had been to the range for practice. The other
platoons had taken the busses back, but we humped back, singing cadence songs
and joking about how there was never any bus for us. When we came to the Company
Street, the other platoons had cleaned their weapons, showered and changed and
were ready for evening chow. We formed for formations; SGT Lund reported to the
Senior DI, that we were all present and accounted for. The Senior DI called
everyone to attention and announced that the other three platoons were to clean
and guard our weapons, while we had an extended evening chow. That was a great
feeling. We never complained, just followed our DI and were recognized.
I only had KP twice during Basic. Long days, up at 4:00 am and in bed by 10:00
pm, almost non-stop work. After KP one night the cook told me to take one of the
extra pies, for me and the other squad leaders. I returned to the barracks and
everyone was sleeping, so I put the pie in the top of my metal wall locker. The
following morning we had a surprise barracks inspection. I was sweating bullets.
The inspecting officer was either hung over or drunk, by the smell of his
breath. SGT Lund entered our room and we were all at attention by our bunks.
With the inspecting officer in the doorway, the Senior DI behind him, SGT Lund
opened out foot lockers for inspection, then our wall lockers. He looked at the
pie and without batting an eye, turned to the inspector, saluted and said,
“Everything looks fine to me sir.” The inspector and the others left for the
first floor. SGT Lund turned and said, “Granger, get rid of the f'ing pie!”
“Yes, Sergeant!” We ate the pie later.
One morning about three weeks after arriving at basic, one of the cousins from
Detroit decided to slit his wrist sown in the latrine. SGT Lund found him when
he didn’t show for formation. SGT Lund asked me what the hell he was doing. The
kid told him he couldn’t take it any more and wanted to die. The SGT told him to
cut his jugular vein, it would be over in minutes and slitting his wrist would
only screw up the use of his hand. The kid started crying and said he didn’t
want to die. SGT Lund told them to get his ass over to the aide station and get
bandaged, then report back for duty. The kid and his cousin eventually became
good men. They did a lot of growing up and actually had some direction in their
life. A lot different than growing up on the streets of Detroit.
The military tried to court martial SGT Lund. On the live fire assault course,
he was motivating a trainee, the trainee tripped and fell, SGT Lund was yelling
at the trainee to get up and get moving. The trainee pointed his M-14 at him.
SGT Lund snatched the weapon, pointed it at the trainee and as he pulled the
trigger, the Range Officer pulled his arm to the side. The round hit the dirt
about one foot from trainee’s head. Three tours in Vietnam were apparently what
convinced the court to lessen his punishment to an Article 15.
Our Company Commander, 1st Lt. Sessoms, called me to his office after about four
weeks. He said I had scored extremely well on the AFQT tests and that he was
certain that he could get me into West Point. He said it would be four years for
the school and five years for the Army. I said that I really wanted to fly
helicopters and that nine years was a long time. The following week I was sent
to take the written test and take a Class A flight physical. I scored the
highest of our test group. I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to
flight training at Fort Rucker, AL. Several weeks went by and I still had heard
nothing. The CO said he would check on it. Graduation came and my parents came
for the ceremony. That was great. My stepfather was a WWII Veteran (a great man
and father figure). Still no word about flight training. I was told the
paperwork would catch up with me in AIT. SGT Lund informed me that I would be
Infantry. I asked how he knew and he said that most smart people were put in the
Infantry. I later found out how true that statement was. Basic Training was
completed on October 11, 1968.
From Fort Knox we were flown straight to Fort Polk, LA for our Advanced Infantry
Training. As with Basic Training, my friend and I were still together. Pretty
intense training, survival, different weapons and explosives, escape and
evasion, (At night in the Louisiana swamps and my friend and I managed to not
get captured, cool.) Still no word about flight training. Top said that the
paperwork was probably lost and he would check. I had a gut feeling it was never
going to happen. I concentrated on my current training, because we all knew that
we were headed for a vacation in Southeast Asia. The Army’s motto at the time
was Fun, Travel, and Adventure, (In Vietnam we had our own definition for FTA).
Most of the guys in AIT were a good bunch, lots of professionals, drop outs from
flight school, one fellow was a professional photographer, and we were looking
at his portfolio of pictures, (nudes that included some of his wife) all very
well done black and white pictures. The DI found his portfolio and said
pornography wasn’t allowed. My friend argued his case, but lost. I don’t know if
it was ever returned.
We are housed in the same type barracks as Basic Training, two story wooden
structures. We have a fire watch inside and out at night. Late one night one of
the other barrack’s outside fire watch was beaten to death with an entrenching
tool. We never heard whether anyone was charged with the crime. Several weeks
later one of the barracks a couple of buildings down caught fire late at night.
Everyone made it out fine. The fire department would only hose down the adjacent
buildings to protect them. From the start of the fire, the building was
completely consumed and down in less than ten minutes. Steel lockers and steel
pots were just molten globs of metal.
Our barracks was infested with cockroaches. We would damp mop the floors just
before lights out to keep the dust down. If you waited five minutes and turned
the lights back on, thousands of roaches would scramble back to their hiding
places. The NCO Quarters on the second floor developed a leak in the shower and
when maintenance pulled up the linoleum in the room, there were millions of
roaches, from adult to tiny babies. The ideal spot to raise a roach family.
The weather in Louisiana at that time was hot and humid. I didn’t think it could
get any worse, until I arrived in Vietnam. We had an insane PT Instructor, a
former surf bum, long bleached blond hair under his Smokey Cover. He loved to
run us every morning for 6 miles before chow. Light up a smoke after that and
you would almost pass out.
I met some local guys in our Company. They lived in the area. One guy was Billy
Qualls, short black kid, lots of fun. Went to Waynesville on a three day pass.
Went to one bar and they refused to server Billy, because he was black. Billy
invited us to his part of town for some fun. Billy, Mike, and I with two other
guys were walking up the main street on that side of town, when we heard a gun
shot. Billy had us go with him to a neighbor’s porch. There was a woman lying
dead in the street. The police and ambulance came, loaded the body, and asked if
anybody had seen what happened. No one spoke, the police left … end of
investigation. This scared the other two guys and they left for the white side
of town. They were robbed at gun point on the way back. Billy, Mike and I
partied all night, had a good time, and went back to the motel room, where we
heard the story of the robbery. The next day I went to the local gun store and
purchased a pistol to carry. Apparently the gun laws in Louisiana are a bit lax,
no ID or address were needed. That purchase came around to bite me several days
later. After we returned to our barracks, I locked the pistol in my foot locker.
Several days later I was called to the First Sergeant’s office. I had left my
foot locker unlocked; anything unlocked was inspected for contraband. Top asked
why I had the weapon. I explained the robbery and said that wouldn’t happen to
me. Top said he would put it in the Company safe and I would get it back later.
I figured that gun was history. After graduation, getting on the bus to head
home for a short leave, Top brought me a package, wrapped in brown paper and
string. He told me not to open it till I got home. He was a man of his word.
Another guy in our AIT Company, Mike Hebert (pronounced Abare), was in D Co, 1st
of the 8th, 4th Inf. He was also from Louisiana.
Home on leave after AIT is mostly a blur. The drastic change in weather from
Fort Polk to Michigan left me a little sickly, along with too much partying.
Mike and I were scheduled to go to Fort Lewis, Washington the first week in
January, 1969. We had separate flights booked, but said we would meet up once
there. Traveling in my dress greens, waiting at the airport in Lansing, MI, I
met another young soldier in uniform. He was from the Lansing area. His name was
Dick Roberts and he was heading to Fort Lewis on his way to Vietnam. Dick was a
likable guy. On the long flight to Ft. Lewis we had plenty of time to get
acquainted. We found out that we both had dated the same girl.
After arriving at Ft. Lewis, Dick and I were put in the same barracks. No word
from Mike yet. The day before leaving for Southeast Asia, Mike shows up and
tells me that he had gotten a hardship discharge. He had three children, two had
minor health issues. Mike apologized for leaving me to go alone. After my return
from Vietnam, I told him that it was better that he didn’t go and not to feel
bad about his leaving and everything turned out fine. Don’t know why, but our
friendship drifted apart after a couple of years. It may have been his lifestyle
or my change in attitude towards life, maybe both!
Dick and I were loaded on the same flight to Vietnam, ten hours with a stop in
Hawaii to refuel. The flight was pretty quiet. I’m sure that most of the
soldiers were thinking the same as me, not knowing what was ahead. We landed in
Cam Rahn Bay in the dark. The only lights on the ground were small fires.
Unloading we were hit by the terrible smell, heat and humidity. We were taken to
a set of barracks, no lights, told to find a bunk and get some sleep. I was
awakened at O-dark thirty, handed an M-14 and told that I was on guard duty. I
was taken to a poorly lit area that looked like an old town from a cheap western
movie and told that was my area to guard and someone would pick me up. Never
said when and the M-14 wasn’t even loaded. God what an introduction. I didn’t
have a clue.
After a couple of days Dick and I and some others were taken to Camp Enari.
Dick, Mike Herbert and I were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. Mike Hebert
was assigned to “D” Company 1st of the 8th, Dick to 4th Platoon “B” Company and
I got 2nd Platoon, “B” Company. I was given an M-79 and a whole bunch of stuff
that I thought we needed and trucked off to FSB Blackhawk. There I was assigned
to the weapons squad as a Grenadier and later as the assistant machine gunner.
My gunner’s name was Chuck, a short, stocky, black guy from New Jersey. Great
guy, kind of quiet. He taught me probably most everything I knew about Vietnam;
culture, combat, etc … I owe him a huge thank you.
After a couple of days, the weapons squad, along with a dog handler, a
squirrelly little dude with a huge German Sheppard and sporting a CAR-15 loaded
with all tracers, was to set up a night ambush location along the highway to
Blackhawk. An APC dropped us off along the highway about dusk. We humped awhile,
and then finally set up at out designated location between the highway and a
small village. There was a small berm between us and the village. It was dark,
the claymore mines were set on the back side of the berm and I had guard duty in
a couple of hours, so I lay down with my poncho liner to get a little sleep. A
while passed and I was shaken awake. There were four Vietnamese carrying what
appeared to be weapons. A call was made over the PRC-25 radio to see if we were
in a free fire zone. We were given clearance to engage the men. They were out
past curfew. John Wilcox blew the claymores and we all headed for the ditch by
the road. The dog handler was running, when his dog caught up to him and tripped
him. The little squirrel sprayed his entire 30 round clip of tracers on his way
to the ground. We moved to a different location to set up again. The dog handler
crawled into the weeds to heave his guts out. His dog decided to lay down right
on top of my head. Things were quiet the rest of the night. A little humorous
for my first real action.
The following morning a tank picked us up to take us back to the compound. I
chose to sit on the right front corner of the unit and enjoy the breeze on the
ride back. As we entered the compound, the tank turned hard left and hit the
brakes. It threw me right off into about 8 inches of superfine dust. That was my
initiation into riding tracks. The tank crew had a real good laugh on me, all
taken in good humor, but that dust got into more places than I knew existed.
Hanging around Blackhawk for a few weeks, doing a few ambushes and patrols let
me get to know the guys in my squad a little bit better.
Lt. Mac was our Platoon Leader, good guy about my age and a good leader.
SGT Mack was our Platoon Sergeant, older guy, by looks, a little on the heavy
side and a heavy smoker, but another good guy.
SGT Oakley was the Squad Leader, from Tennessee, heavy southern accent, skinny,
thin hair. Later when in the field, he would stand on the bunker first thing in
the morning, pound his scrawny chest and give a Tarzan yell. Good squad leader.
Chuck Austin, New Jersey, I believe, my M-60 gunner, stocky black guy, kind of
quiet. He and I were the only two in the company that smoked Camel regulars. I
learned a lot from him, being is assistant gunner. Great guy.
John Wilcox, West Covena, CA, tall guy, easy to talk to, later tried to get
religion to get out of combat. Didn’t work. Another great guy.
John Zambella, New Jersey, short guy, great sense of humor, lots of fun.
John ?, red head, always wore a train engineers hat, never shaved a day in his
life, peach fuzz, big dude, lots of fun.
Mike Jones, good guy. He became weapons squad leader, when SGT Oakley left
country later, kind of quiet, good guy.
Dick Roberts came around several times, finally settled into his platoon.
Arly Short, Kentucky, really tall and lanky. We later acquired him from Ron
Coker’s squad. Ron didn’t like him, said he was dumb and didn’t want him in his
squad. I was squad leader at the time and Arly and I got along great. He was
quiet. One of the best point men ever, 6’ 3”, eyes like a hawk, went through the
jungle quiet as a mouse.
Ed Gehringer, Pennsylvania?, good sense of humor, good guy. We both applied for
the medic job later, he was chosen, more time in country … better choice.
Hutchins, “Hutch”, San Francisco, real good guy, we all signed a 5 dollar bill
I now wish I had recorded more names of those great guys!
One day in late January we were doing a patrol in VC Valley. Early in the day we
encountered some punji stakes. A few guys were wounded and taken back for
treatment. Moving on through a dry wash with high ground on both sides felt
uneasy, as this was a prime spot for an ambush with no place to go. Later in the
afternoon, the platoon was moving over a small hill, when one of the guys
tripped a spring spear trap. The spear punctured his ammo pouch, penetrating his
metal M-16 ammo clip. We all froze in place, looking around. There were at least
a dozen more set to be tripped. No one was injured and we disabled all the traps
and moved off the hill. Later in the same afternoon, we were taking a break in
the middle of a large clearing, joking around. John, the red head, was doing his
best John Wayne imitation with the M-60. After we returned to base, we were told
that there was a group of VC set up about 50 meters from our break area, while
we were there. Hump’n the hills in the area, staying on the mountains, cold at
night, lower 30’s, hot in the day, middle 80’s, not much happening, listening to
what the guys talked about, some went through TET, tried to glean any
information I could.
We get convoyed from Blackhawk through the Mang Yang Pass to an airstrip, don’t
recall where, for a ten click hump, as the crow flies, to some hill to set up a
base to work from. Hump’n that 80 pound rucksack, through heavy brush, elephant
grass and hills in that heat and humidity, is probably the most difficult thing
I have ever done. We reached the base of the hill just before dusk. I had
straggled to almost the last man. I had no more energy or will to climb that
last hill. Fortunately for me, a couple of guys pushed and pulled and encouraged
me to finish the climb. Reaching the top, I dumped my ruck, spread the poncho
liner on the ground and collapsed. I didn’t wake until the next morning. I have
never been that completely exhausted in my life. At the base of that hill I told
the guys to just leave me till morning. Thank God and those guys for not
listening to me. We had to Medevac one guy about half way there, due to heat
stroke. The hill was an ideal site to work from. Clear view on all sides with a
clear cold mountain stream about 300 meters from the base of the hill. I have
never seen a stream that clear anywhere. We could bathe every couple of days and
refill our canteens. They later brought a water blivet, which someone forgot to
secure and it rolled down the hill, knocking one guy into an open bunker and
really messing up his back, another Medevac. One other instance of the crazies,
two guys and I went to the stream to bathe, had finished and were headed back up
the hill, me tagging along last. The other two had reached the top and I was
about 50 meters down hill. Someone had fallen asleep smoking and caught their
hooch on fire and all his ammo and grenades were starting to cook off. An
engineer with a shovel started flinging M-79 rounds over the edge of the hill.
Most all were about 25 meters to my left, then a white phosphorous grenade lit
about 25 meters, near me and went off. I started screaming my head off and made
it to the top in record time.
Things were pretty quiet around there, except for SGT Oakley’s morning Tarzan
yells. We were going out on 3 man ambush patrols, 2 to 3 days at a time. Doing
some recon patrols. Never found anything significant. Had a new guy join the
platoon, Don Cris, Hamtramyk, MI. He was deathly afraid of bees and such. Late
one afternoon, we were sitting on the bunker and I heard a loud droning sound
nearby. I told Don to freeze and not make a move. Seconds later we were in the
midst of a swarm of jungle bees. They were headed for their night colony
location. Don immediately broke into a sweat. In seconds the bees were gone. Don
asked why I didn’t tell him the bees were coming. I said, “You would probably
have started swinging, then we would all be in deep shit.” Don’s fatigue shirt
was soaked with sweat. In the early evenings, we would hear the sound of the FU
lizards. This was my first encounter with these little critters. I asked one of
they guys, is that the VC yelling. He said no, those are lizards. Had a large
centipede crawl across my face one very dark night that startled the bejeezers
out of me. I couldn’t sue a light to find it in that tiny hooch. I think I’m
finally getting used to the gnats flying in front of my face, inhale 10, exhale
5, chew the others. Get a little extra protein just from breathing.
Around the middle of February, we arrive at Fire Support Base 34. We are running
patrols and ambushes. Pretty quiet area, although one of the deuce and a half
trucks lost a left front tire to a land mine in the road. One of the guys in the
company found a WWII 45 cal Grease Gun stashed under a log near by. The gun was
clean and loaded. I headed out with two other guys on a tree day ambush and had
gone down the hill from the perimeter about 500 meters, when we heard the
Howitzers going off in our direction. The guy with the radio was quick to call
back and have them stop. Apparently no one told the artillery unit that we were
in front of them. One of the rounds that went over heads made a loud whooshing
noise. I asked what that was and was told it was a beehive round. We looked
across the valley and could see tree leaves dropping. I told the guys I didn’t
know what they were. We crossed the valley and found thousands of little
finishing nails with fins stuck in the trees. I dug several out to keep as
souvenirs. I still have them. Things were pretty easy around there. I found a
very small stream close by and decided to treat myself to a cold bath. I
stripped down, laid my clothes on a large rock and lathered up. Right after
rinsing off, two young local females stopped by to chat. One of the young ladies
picked up my camera and snapped a picture of me in the buff. I was a bit
embarrassed, but they weren’t. I later found out that nudity in Vietnam is not
as big an issue as it is Stateside.
Around the first of March we made a combat assault to FSB-20, the Tactical
Operations Center. We are to provide perimeter security for the 6/29th
Artillery. The first few days we are pretty busy building bunkers, filling sand
bags, cutting trees for roof supports, digging trenches and perimeter guard at
night. The company is sending out platoon size ambushes and patrols. Second
Platoon is kept back as the ready reaction unit. We all heard about “A” Company
nearly getting wiped out, March 7th, my 23rd birthday. Some of the guys are
getting together to celebrate my birthday after I got off guard duty. As I
ducked low enough to get under the roof support, I caught the end of a log right
square in the forehead, which knocked me right on my keester. As I went in the
guys asked what the hell that was. I had to show them the know on my forehead;
kinda hard navigating in that darkness, with only starlight to go by. One of the
guys had taken a C-ration pound cake and frosted it with jelly for my birthday
cake. It was really good. Fruit cake and pound cake are my favorite. The next
day I was sent to the rear to be checked by the doctor for a possible
concussion. I had a screaming headache and nausea. Two days later I was back in
“D” Company has joined us at FSB-20. They are sending out more platoon size
ambushes and sweeps. One afternoon, we are visited by Gen Abrams. He entered our
area from the chopper pad. When he approached, I properly saluted him and
immediately had a gentle ass chewing from him. He had his aide take my name and
said he would send a letter to my mom letting her know I was OI. The letter was
sent to the other Granger’s mother from our company. He was a tall black kid. We
always joked about whose father was whose. Listen to a lot of music at night or
play cards, matchstick poker, when anybody had money. SGT Mack likes to play
poker, but is a famous loser. Listened to Hanoi Hannah on several occasions.
Music was good, but she is filled with so much crap, she and Jane Fonda are a
real pair. Several guys have frag Fonda written on their helmet covers. One
night one of the new guys was on perimeter guard. I got into the trench leading
to his bunker and started grunting like a wild hog. He didn’t know what to do.
Later I thought what a stupid thing that was; he could have shot out of panic.
One other afternoon we were visited by three young starlets from Hollywood. They
were dressed in go-go boots with mini skirts. Boy, talk about a real morale
booster. Every guy in that camp was wet with drool. I had been carving short
timers stick for Jonesy. I gave the stick to Lt. Mack and asked if he would give
it to the girl with short hair, she played on the TV Western Cimarron Strip. The
Lt. gave it to her and she asked who had made it. I raised my hand and she
called me down to the area, where all the officers and girls were. She gave me a
kiss on the cheek and a hug. Boy was Jones pissed. Another afternoon a sky crane
was dropping off a damaged chopper, so it could go refuel. We were warned to tie
or weigh everything down. The crane had just unhooked the bird and was powering
up to take off, when through the air came sailing a red nylon mail bag. It got
sucked up into the main rotor and that big bird dropped like a rock. There was
an immediate inventory of gear. All our guys were in the clear. No damage was
done to the crane and it was back a short time later to get its load.
March 15th “a” and “C” Companies moved onto Hill 467. March 21st “B” Company
second platoon humped to Hill 467, through the triple canopy jungle, hot and
humid, no direct sunlight and all the steep hills a person could ever dream of,
before arriving at our destination. We came across an old set of tunnels filled
with spider webs and growth. Some moron decided to throw a CS grenade into one
of the tunnels. We all had to put on our gas masks. We arrived at Hill 467 and
set up on the North perimeter. The perimeter is only about 50 meters in any
direction, with an LZ in the middle. The trees are about 60 feet tall and the
choppers have to land almost straight down. The bunkers are already dug, 3 feet
deep x 5 feet long and 2 feet wide, with several rows of sandbags above. Hooches
were set up behind. The remainder of the company CA’d to the hill later in the
day. “A” Company retuned to FSB-20.
March 23rd “B” Company 2nd Platoon is supposed to go on a recon sweep west of
Hill 467. Late morning we gear up and set out on the west trail. We move about
50 meters and are called back. There is supposed to be an ARC Light in our
destination area later in the day. We return to the hill. Around noon we are
told the ARC Light was cancelled and we gear up and head out again. We get about
100 meters out and again are called back, ARC Light on, we return to camp. Later
in the afternoon we are once again heading back out the same trail to the same
location. Everyone had an uneasy feeling about using this same trail 3 times. We
get to our location and are up for the evening, when we get a call that the ARC
Light is still on and we have to leave ASAP. Everyone is grabbing gear and
hading back up the trail. I got separated from Chuck, my gunner. There was small
arms fire about 50 meters ahead of me. Lt. Mack called for me to get with the
gunner. I ran up the trail, jumped a downed tree and made it to Chuck’s
location. I threw my ruck in front of me and started firing. Our M-60 wasn’t
firing; it’s evening and light is dim. Chuck starts disassembling the gun, while
I lay cover fire. Total chaos, M-16’s, AK-47’s, grenades going off, men yelling
they have been hit. The Medic with squad leader Ron Coker is at my feet. Ron has
a sucking chest wound, dying and calling for his mother. Chuck got the gun apart
and found that the AK-47 round hit the B3 can that the ammo rolls over, had
ricocheted into the receiver, also chewing up his thumb. We grabbed Ron’s M-16,
so Chuck was now armed. Several Chi-Com grenades land within 5 feet of us and
explode. Neither of us is wounded. Our squad leader fires a LAW at a tree
covering one of the NVA. Finally there is silence. Ron has died. We all help
carry the wounded and Ron’s body back up the trail to the hill. It is kind of
hard making your way in triple canopy in the dark.
Back in the safety of our perimeter, we hear the details of the encounter. Four
NVA were spotted setting up an ambush in a bomb crater, when the point man
spotted them. On the way down the point man was firing. Ron was behind the point
and on his way down, he took one AK round straight down near his collar bone.
That rocked him back, where he took the second round in the chest. That was the
only wound the Medic could find. I didn’t know till I got back Stateside, that I
had been awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device, for my action that evening. I
was asked 35 years later by a high school student, if I thought I deserved the
award. I told the young lady, that I appreciate that someone thought I earned
it, but I was just doing what needed to be done, the things we are trained to
The following day we were sent out a patrol to recover the remainder of our gear
we had been unable to carry the night before. I had a funny feeling about that
patrol. I told the squad leader my feelings and he said it was going to be quick
and easy, out and back. I said it still didn’t feel right to me. He told me to
stay back and take it easy. Later a gunship fires on the guys, thinking they
were NVA. One guy got wounded by the gunship. We hear about the other platoons
that went to blow a road block in the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They had run into a
large force and 6 were MIA. My friend Dick Roberts is one of them. A couple of
days later, 3 of the MIA linked back up with a unit of ours. Dick was not one of
We have been taking 105 Howitzer rounds, mortar rounds, B-40 rockets and sniper
fire for days. An NVA sniper just outside our perimeter is firing at anything
that tries to land. A jet is called in to strafe the area. He unloads his 20 mm
guns on the south side and as the jet makes his break and starts climbing, the
sniper fires his 3 rounds again. Patrols were sent to locate the sniper to no
avail. Water and food are getting low, with no re-supply birds getting into the
LZ. Three guys make it to a so called stream, as shown to be nearby on the map,
and brought back several ammo containers of water. We were given two canteens
each. I filtered the leaches and algae out through the top of a dirty sock, then
added the iodine tablets. Later in the day, one of the guys from another platoon
offered me $480 for a canteen of my water. I turned him down. I thought to
myself how many times in the real world have you gone to the sink and drank a
glass of water and never gave it a second thought. I thought, if I ever get
home, I will never take a drink of water for granted. To this day I can not pass
a drinking fountain without remembering how thirsty we were.
One morning I was just beyond our bunker, towards the concertina, digging a
small hole for the morning ritual and had just squatted with my pants down, when
I heard the two enemy Howitzers near the border go off. That meant you had just
seconds to find cover. I pulled up my pants and dashed for the bunker. As I lay
there covering my head, I heard two loud pops in the air. I quickly scrambled
inside for cover, expecting more rounds to be fired at us. After several
minutes, papers came floating down. I picked one up and read the propaganda. If
we gave up and went to their side, we would be treated well and fed and the
world would be great. Later in the day our squad leader, from Texas, and I were
our hooch, behind the bunker, when we heard enemy mortars go off. We dove for
the bunker and got inside. One of the 60mm rounds lit right in the middle of our
hooch. It shredded my rucksack, punctured my shaving cream can, and ruined a
roll of exposed film. Stateside I found the pictures of the starlets were almost
March 24th with two other guys, I was assigned to a listening post on the west
perimeter. We set up about half way between the bunkers and concertina. CPT
DeRoos wanted listening posts outside the wire, but with all the enemy probing
at night, no one would go that far out. Not much happened that night, just the
usual probing and our guys throwing grenades at the probes and the occasional
claymore going off.
March 25th I woke up at daybreak. I was winding up my claymore wire, while the
other two headed for the bunkers. About halfway to the claymore, I spotted 4 NVA
setting up about 5 meters outside the wire. I crouched down and froze. When the
enemy had gotten down below brush level, I made tracks to the bunkers and
reported what I had seen. As our M-60 was out of commission, another gunner and
assistant were called to spray the area. I showed the gunner where they had set
up and he sprayed the area until his barrel got to hot and his assistant had to
change barrels, and then he hosed the area down some more. How or why the NVA
never saw me is a mystery. I was out in the open, no cover or concealment at
all. The weapons squad was selected to go sweep the area. Arly Short said he
would walk point, Phil Lynch, new guy, said he would go, but I had an uneasy
feeling at the time and told the new guy to wait here. He insisted on going, so
we had him in the middle. We went out the trail to the west and were going to
sweep north. I was third from the point, when Arly froze in mid step, about 25
meters outside the wire, turned to his right and fired his M-16. I saw one man
running down the trail and sent an HE on his tail. The second man from the point
and I advanced past Arly. Lynch was now to Arly’s right. We saw movement behind
a log and the other guy fired his M-16 at the movement, but couldn’t get enough
angle. I loaded a shotgun round, moved forward and fired. There was a huge
explosion behind the log. The concussion knocked me backwards on my butt. The
area behind the log was devoid of any vegetation. At this point we had made a
huge military error. We had no one watching our backsides. A B-40 rocket was
fired from behind us, exploding between Arly and Lynch. The concussion blew me
from a crouched position up and back about 2 meters. It blew my web gear and
helmet off. I swear I watched this happen from above. When I came to, everyone
was gone, except for Lynch. The dust was still in the air. I grabbed my helmet,
web gear, and gun, then stopped by Lynch. He had large holes in his forehead and
they were steaming. I beat feet to the wire, where the squad leader was waiting.
We moved inside the wire. We were crouched down and I was relaying to him Phil’s
condition, when a Chi Com grenade landed about 3 feet to my right, exploded and
knocked me down and knocked my helmet off again. The SGT on my left gets
shrapnel in his right side. I do not get a scratch. I am a firm believer in
Guardian Angels. The platoon leader is informed of Phil’s condition and a Medic,
not Gehringer, armed with only his 45 crawled to Lynch’s position. Several guys
from another platoon are sweeping the area from north to south and encounter
more NVA. It took quite a while for them to reach the Medics location. They
brought in Phil’s body. The Medic said later that he had tried to give Phil CPR
3 times, but there wasn’t enough of the brain to sustain Phil. While the guys
were recovering the body, I was sitting in the back entrance of a bunker. The
upper half of my body was exposed, Lt. Mach standing to my right and slightly
behind. A B-40 was fired at us and struck a tree near the bunker; the concussion
blew me out of the entrance, wounding me in the right shoulder and center of the
back. Lt. Mach also received shrapnel wounds. I went to the Medics bunker. Arly
Short was there bleeding from multiple areas from wounds sustained in the
earlier B-40 that hit between him and Lynch on our sweep. The Medic wiped my
shoulder wound with alcohol and cut that piece of shrapnel out. He checked the
wound in my back, which just missed my spine, said it was too deep to remove at
this time. I rejoined the squad. Gunships worked over the area pretty good.
After a while things quieted down, but everyone was still on edge. Haven’t had
any sleep to speak of in days. The lack of water and food and constant shelling
is taking its toll on everyone. A five minute nap is about all I can get at one
time. The night time probing and hearing the digging, moaning of their wounded
and movement just outside the wire, with it dark enough not to be able to see a
thing keeps everyone alert every minute.
Several mornings the weapons squad was called to sweep the area between the
bunkers and the wire. We were to police up any equipment, weapons, etc from the
bodies that were there. You could see where some of their bodies had been
dragged out. The remaining bodies were all bloated from the heat in the sun and
our own men’s bodies wrapped in ponchos, stacked like so much cordwood, by the
chopper pad, filled the air with the smell of death. Usually the enemy bodies
would be gone by the next night. The Vietnamese have very strong beliefs
regarding their dead. It is not a bad thing.
We continue to get pounded by 105mm Howitzers, 82mm mortars, 60mm mortars, B-40
rockets and small arms fire. Their mortar FO is very good. He has our
coordinates down pat. It starts in the morning and continues into the evening,
when the probing begins. Almost everyone is wounded. We have one guy in the
platoon that hasn’t been hit. He has already passed his ETS date, but can’t get
a bird out. He still volunteers to go on ambush or patrols, but none of us will
let him. He’s not allowed outside the wire.
March 26th “D” Company has left the hill, extracted to FSB-27. That leaves what
is left of “B” and “C” Companies. I don’t know how many men are left, but we are
terribly under manned. The exhaustion is wearing on everyone. I had on guy from
another platoon jump into my bunker during one afternoon shelling. The guy was
unarmed, crying and blubbering about going over to the enemy and surrendering. I
told him to get the hell out of there. I didn’t want to hear that bullshit. He
left running to some other bunker. I probably shouldn’t have been so cold to
him, but I had more pressing things on my mind, like survival.
March 28th the heaviest day of shelling yet. Later reports indicate over 120
rounds of 105 Howitzer, along with the 60mm and 82mm mortar, B-40 rockets,
grenades and AK-47 fire. No one has had any sleep in over three days. That night
the NVA assaulted our perimeter and some made it inside. They were killed. We
are still losing men. The gunship “Puff the Magic Dragon” is called in to work
the area outside our perimeter. Grenades and mortars are going off all night
long. Although we are all worn out from fatigue and the heat, no one sleeps.
Everyone is peering at the wire, waiting for the next assault.
March 29th and we haven’t had food or water in four days. I drank about two
tablespoons of liquid from a tree vine that I had cut. It wasn’t bitter, so I
swallowed it. The things you will do when that thirsty are amazing. We are told
that everyone would be extracted the next day around noon. We have heavy
movement all around our perimeter all day. We are getting rockets, mortars and
grenades from all directions. That night the gunship “Spooky” is called in to
work the area just outside the perimeter. Hearing the hum of the guns and the
solid red line of tracers was somewhat comforting. It is another long sleepless
March 30th we get word that the Air Force has taken out one of the 105’s that
has been pounding us every day. We are told to get our gear together. The
extraction would start in the morning. “C” Company would go first, leaving what
was left of “B” Company to take over the entire perimeter. As the choppers were
coming in, they had to come in at tree top level and drop down to the chopper
pad. They were taking fire from the enemy all the time. The pilots informed us that the enemy
was at our wire. Gun ships and Cobras were working our perimeter as the
extraction went on. “C” Company is out, and “B” Company is maneuvering to cover the
area left by their withdrawal. We are all firing our excess ammo at anything
that moves outside the wire. The birds continue to come in and the enemy
continues to fire at them. It’s finally my turn to leave. When I get to the
bird, I dropped something. As I bent over to pick it up, I was grabbed and
thrown into the ship. While we were taking off you could hear the AK-47’s firing
at us. When we cleared the area, the door gunners leaned outside to access the
damage. They reported to the pilot that we had taken 13 rounds. We landed at
Polei Kleng. Upon landing, our chopper died. We were listening to the remainder
of the extraction. Several of the other birds had been hit and had to make
emergency landings at other locations. We heard from the RTO, who was relaying
information to us, that no birds were left, so the four remaining guys couldn’t be
picked up, and the enemy were coming through the wire. Our pilot, I wish I knew
his name, God bless those guys, motioned to his crew that the Battalion
Commanders bird was sitting and running. The pilot and crew mounted that bird,
the Battalion Commander was having a “hissy fit”, that was his bird and they
shouldn’t take it. The bird took off and we finally heard from the RTO, that the
four men left on Hill 467 had been picked up. A roar of cheering went up.
Someone was collecting money to buy that crew a case of beer. When the bird
finally landed, a case of beer was given to the door gunner. We are all loaded
on deuce and a halves to be convoyed to FBB McNerney. As we were all loaded
ready to depart, CPT DeRoos was called down off the truck by another officer
from Polei Kleng. We couldn’t hear because of the roar of the trucks, but
apparently the CPT was getting an ass chewing, with a finger being poked in his
chest and the look on the other officer’s face. We start our convoy to McNerny
for a long and well deserved stand down.
We arrived at FSB McNerney in the evening. Everyone is quiet, not much talking
at all. It takes several days to unwind from the chaos of the last couple of
weeks. It’s great to get a real shower, food and water. I don’t recall how long
we were there, probably a week, not long enough. Doing a little whittling to
pass the time. A few out door movies, some cold beer and music. I could have
taken that for the rest of my tour. The next few weeks are quite uneventful. I
think we went to an artillery base and were just doing routine patrols. At some
point we stop at Camp Enari for a couple of days. Lt. Mack, another Lt.
“Chicago” and I are going to the PX. The two of them decide to buy me a new
baseball cap. They have it embroidered with “Captain Crunch” on the back and
Captains bars in front. I did a good voice impression of Captain Crunch from the
radio. I asked if I would get in trouble wearing it. They laughed and said they
would take care of it. It was a hoot, having people salute you. Those two were
having a ball. I saw one of my hometown friends there. Graig Olmstead, didn’t
get a chance to talk, or maybe I just didn’t want to talk. While at Camp Enari
we have to do our turn at perimeter guard. The towers were only being manned
every other one. All those spare M-60’s just sitting there not being used.
Needless to say, with Chuck’s gun out of commission, we did some parts swapping
and were soon back in business as a weapons squad.
Around the middle of April we moved to An Khe. We are at the main base there,
Camp Radcliff, and are allowed to go into town for the day. This is my first
experience in a Vietnamese town. The local beauties trying to get some business.
Several guys and I want into a bar for a few beers. I had to use the bathroom.
That was a bit of a shock. Beautiful tiled walls and floor, but no toilet in
sight. Just a stream of water running in a trench from one side of the building
to the other. The two tiled foot prints straddling the trench made it easy to
get the idea. No hookers for me thank you very much. Several days later we are
humping up this lonely hill in the middle of a great expanse of flat land and
rice paddies. We clear the top and start building our bunkers. We have another
new guy in the platoon, a big, burly, black guy. I have been given the rank of
Acting Jack SGT, as there are no promotions available. I was given the task of
building a new bunker. I asked the new guy to help the other guys with the job.
He became hostile and combative. He called me a prejudiced honkie and we were
toe to toe, when my gunner Chuck stepped between us, pushing us apart. He faced
the new guy and let him know that there was no one prejudiced in this platoon,
the N word flew. Chuck informed him that any more trouble, Chuck would deal with
him. Never had any more problems with that man. Several weeks later, he and I
became friendly. He commented that he didn’t want to be responsible for anyone
dying and he would rather spend his tour in Long Bien Jail. I told him that we
all look out for each other. He became a pretty decent guy, carrying the machine
gun on numerous occasions.
We are in this area to work with the locals and one ARVN compound just up the
road. I believe it was called OP Tom. We are still running some patrols and
ambushes, as there is suspected VC activity in the area. CPT DeRoos is not with
us, I don’t remember why. We have a new CO and he wants everyone wearing
helmets. Our squad has camouflaged berets made. We stash our helmets when we go
out. Meeting with some of the locals, they give us a ride on their tanks up the
road to their village. Dozens of kids wanting handouts, one little girl with a
deformed foot was always at the back of the crowd. I don’t know if the deformity
was natural or caused by the war. I made sure she got her share of the goodies.
We all helped with the construction, mostly muscle work, of the Outpost
Commander’s new home. It was absolutely amazing to watch the Vietnamese
carpenters, with their primitive tools, chisels, bow saws, planes and hand
augers. Their craftsmanship was impeccable. The windows and doors were the
finest I have ever seen. When the house was finished later, my SGT and I were
invited to stay the night. The Commander’s wife offered me her hammock. She and
her baby would sleep on a mat on the floor. I told the SGT, I didn’t feel right
about that. He told me it would be a disgrace t her, to refuse sleeping in her
bed. Reluctantly I slept in the hammock. We had several meals with the family.
They were very gracious hosts and it was a pleasure eating home cooked Asian
meals. I learned a lot about Vietnamese customs and traditions. What a great
The new CO is mad about us buying cold beer and pop from the locals. He orders
their coolers be shot up and says he will provide the beer and pop. We get the
beer and pop, but because of flight priorities, the huge block of ice couldn’t
be flown and sat on the chopper pad all day. By the time the 300 lb block of ice
got to us, it weighed only about 25 lbs. Just not enough to satisfy an entire
company. Eventually he gave in and we bought cold refreshments locally again. We
finally get a mini mess set up on the hilltop. The cook provides a pot of hot
soup and coffee to the night guards, what a treat. I always hated split pea soup
Stateside, but had a cup one pitch black night and it was delicious. The coffee
was always good, unless someone stirred up the grounds.
Thanks to the RJ Reynolds Company, who sent out cases of Winston, Salem, and
Camel cigarettes. Chuck and I are the only two in the company, who smoke Camels
and made out like fat rats. Most of the black guys smoked Kools, white guys
smoked Marlboros. We saved the Salem to trade to the Vietnamese. They liked the
menthol. Chuck and I had cartons of Camels. We found out the cook smoked them
and gave him several cartons. The next morning the cook made sure we had steak
and eggs. The rest of the crew didn’t have that pleasure. The old saying is that
if you keep the cook and supply sergeant happy, life in the military is a
breeze, is absolutely correct.
During the day, when we are not on patrol, we are at the base of the hill,
clearing the brush away for a track unit to setup. We have been working for days
and not making much progress. Suddenly we hear the loud roar of tracks coming
and through the brush comes a track with a huge blade on the front. It had a
pair of water buffalo horns mounted on it. That track cleared the entire area in
no time at all. The rest of the tracks came in and set their perimeter. We were
now building bunkers in the center of the area and providing perimeter security.
It has been over a month since getting the shrapnel in my back. The heavy
rucksack has caused the wound to swell about the size of a gold ball. I asked
Doc to cut it out. He had me sit on the bunker and arch my back. He cleaned the
area and proceeded to cut it out. It was quite deep, jut to the right of my
spine. We both could tell when he found it, the scalpel hitting metal. He pulled
it out with tweezers and asked if I wanted it for a souvenir. I told him no. He
put some salve on the wound and bandaged it up and I was good to go. It was
really tender for the next few weeks, but felt better than the gold ball under
I acquired a few things from the tracks. They had a dog that followed them
around. They had given her some Greek Goddess name. The little dog decided she
liked us better. Someone said, “That’s a bitch dog.” and the name stuck. She
went with us everywhere. She would chase the water buffalo away, even when they
kicked her and knocked her ass over applecart. She would also chase snakes. I
saw her chase a cobra about 50 meters into a bamboo grove. What a great dog,
rarely barked. I wish I could have brought her home with me. The other thing I
acquired was a Colorado Bowie Knife. I swapped a survival hatchet for it. I
liked passing the time by throwing the knife and sticking it into trees. Our new
platoon SGT Pete told the CO of OP Tom that I had killed 27 VC by throwing that
knife. The CO had me show him how it was thrown. He had a nice K-bar. After
about 15 minutes, he was sticking it in the outside of his heavy office door at
about 20 feet away. The man was really good. Curse Pete for his white lie,
although I may be legend in that area.
The platoon spent several nights at the ARVN compound with the mortar crew
showing them how to setup and aim their tubes. At the end of the day, the ARVN’s
would break out their Marijuana, hashish and opium and they all got stoned. I
don’t think they could find their butts with both hands if needed, let alone
fight a war. Became quite friendly with the Commander and his right hand man
Vinh. Some 20 years later, I was watching a major documentary on the Vietnam War
and they were showing how some of the South Vietnamese were being re-educated in
the North. They were interviewing Vinh and apparently the re-education was
working. Those two guys were really great people. I wonder what happened to the
Commander. I hope he is safe and well.
As I put these thoughts and memories to paper, each memory triggers another.
Although some happenings are a little out of sync with time, they are true to
the best of my recollection.
We have gotten to know quite a few locals. A pleasant older woman with hair that
reaches the ground, which she later had cut and sold to a wig maker, and her
three pretty girls. One of the guys in our platoon fell in love with Hong. He
went AWOL for three days. He was not punished for it, but promised not to let it
happen again. These girls were a real pleasure to be around. The locals that I
have gotten to know are really great people, if you observe their customs and
One young lady, a prostitute from An Khe who I befriended, when she wasn’t
plying her trade, would fix lunch and share with me. We would talk and she told
me she made more money in one month than her family made all year. Early one
afternoon she told me she had to leave. When I asked why, she said “VC may come
today.” We returned to the base of the hill and in late afternoon, the VC fired
mortars and recoilless rifle rounds on our position. Fortunately one of the 50
cal Gunners was sitting in the turret of his tank. He saw the back blast from
the recoilless and opened fire on the enemy position and the firing stopped. The
weapons squad formed up to sweep the area. After crossing the rice paddies, we
swept the area and found the mortar base plate, several mortar and recoilless
rounds, numerous blood trails and a bloody backpack. We followed the blood
trails for a short distance, but didn’t pursue any further. We returned to base
with the rounds and the base plate. About a week later the young lady made the
same comment as before. Gunners waited for the start. Several more mortar and
recoilless rounds were fired at us from the very same spot as before. Not too
smart on their part. Both 50’s opened up on them. Again the weapons squad went
out and we recovered more rounds. They were firing the mortar with not base
plate. We called back to base to ask if they wanted the rounds. They said to
blow them in place. SGT Pete told one of the guys to dig a hole in a termite
mound. We had no C-4, so he said to put a claymore in the hole and place the
rounds on top of it. I told the SGT that was not a good idea, because the ammo
would be blown into the air and go off. He said I was wrong. I said just give me
five minutes to get the hell out of there. He finally agreed and put the
claymore on top. We moved to the rice paddy dike and blew the ammo. We all
survived. We never had another attack on the base. Apparently those two 50’s
were very convincing. I’m grateful for the young lady’s warning. I hadn’t picked
up on her first warning.
Another humorous event occurred, while we were sweeping a wooded area outside of
OP Tom. We were all riding on the tanks, rucksacks off and set against the
turret to use as a backrest. We were plowing through the woods, knocking down
trees as we went. We suddenly hear machine gun fire; the turret starts to s wing
in my direction. I bail off the side and hit the ground. The turret continues to
swing. No one seems to know where the shots came from. It is finally determined
that one of our gunners fell off his ride and accidentally fired the gun when he
hit the ground. We had a laugh over that, until I saw that my ruck had been
wadded into a ball by the turret.
An unfortunate event took place near one of the other outposts, can’t recall the
name. We had a new guy in the company. We were told to keep an eye on him. He
was only in country a few days and apparently while doing perimeter guard at the
main base on night, he opened fire with the M-60 on some fireflies. He thought
they were VC flashlights. He had been with us for a couple of weeks and
accidentally shot himself in the foot with his M-79. He was carrying it through
the brush with the safety off and not covering the trigger housing. A branch
hooked the trigger and it went off. He only received a nasty bruise on the side
of his foot. In another of his moronic moves, he was assigned to carry the radio
transmission scrambler/decoder. About half way up out hill he threw it down and
said it was too heavy and he wasn’t going to carry it any more. All this leads
up to the unfortunate event. The company was going to cordon a village at night.
The village had an Outpost in the center and ROC’s at the entrance and exits to
the village. We were all in position, when the OP started their nightly ritual
of throwing mortar shells into the jungle. None of them were even remotely close
to us. Mr. Moron decided to fire his M-79 at the outpost. The tower observer at
the OP saw his muzzle flash and opened up with everything they had. Our new
black, the one I had the problem with, Bitch and I are hiding behind a big
termite mound. Rounds are hitting the ground around us. One of their grenadiers
lobbed a round that lit between the legs of one of the other squad members. He
was from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, can’t recall his name. He was going to buy
a new Z28 Camaro, when he went Stateside. Our company commander finally gets the
firing stopped. Our man has both legs shredded pretty badly. A Medevac is
called. The squad leader wants to shoot the Moron, but the Lt. stops him.
Another bird is called in to take the Moron out. He was transferred to “D”
Company. We let them know of this guys problems. The cordon was a total bust. We
found out later that our guy was going to be OK, except for the use of his legs.
While working off the top of that lone hill, I had the privilege to buy a Monkey
from our Mess Sergeant. It was a young female, indigenous to the Central
Highlands. He kept it tied to his bunker. A few of the guys would pick at her
and she was known to bite. I think I pad twenty five dollars for her. I named
her Suzie, after a former girl friend, and took her back to our hooch. I tried
to make friends with her and things went well the first couple of days, then she
bit me over a food issue. Without thinking, I backhanded her, knocking her about
ten feet outside the hooch and splitting her lip. I immediately felt absolutely
terrible about what I had done. She sat on a bunker and looked at me, tears in
her eyes, for about 30 minutes. I was finally able to coax her back to the
hooch. I apologized, petted and cuddled her. She never bit me again and would
rarely leave my side or should I say my shoulder. There was a food issue between
Suzie and Bitch. I sat both down with the food in between and wouldn’t let
either ear for about ten minutes. That cured the food problem. Suzie and Bitch
became playmates. She would keep the fleas and ticks off the dog and me. She did
have a few bad habits. One was getting into my shaving kit and taking a pack of
menthol cigarettes, breaking off all the filters and chewing them. She would
also get into my sewing kit and load her cheek pouches with buttons. When
confronted, she would look at you with big innocent eyes, like what are you
talking about, with cheeks bulging with buttons. She did have a hate for
Vietnamese children and some black guys and if allowed she would chase and bite
them. Any of the guys that were rolling left hand cigarettes, she would run over
and pick all the seeds out, put them in her cheeks and eat them. Then she would
start her crazy act, dangling by her teeth from a string tied to the hooch and
spinning. Then she would crawl inside my shirt and crash for a while. Every
night she slept inside my shirt. Every evening she would find SGT Pete. She knew
he would have a beer and she would perch on his shoulder and Pete would share
his beer with her. She was incredibly intelligent, loving and curious. I would
have brought her Stateside, if it weren’t for the long quarantine period.
Instead I left her with Pete.
I had to travel back to the base at An Khe, don’t recall why, and the only bird
available was a LOH. That was just fine with me. I love flying. The pilot
“Crash” lit the bird on the hilltop, told me to get in up front as he had to
take the Battalion Commander on a short recon, then drop him at another hill,
then drop off some paperwork at another base, then we would go to An Khe. Crash
asked if I was comfortable flying. I told him I was and he lifted off, went
forward to clear the hill and dropped the bird down, skids barely skimming the
tree tops. When he leveled off, he looked at me smiling and asked how that was.
I told him that was better than a roller coaster. We did the short recon,
dropped the Battalion Commander and his aide off a “D” Company’s hill, flew to
another base, he got out and delivered the paperwork and returned in minutes. He
then flew straight to the base at An Khe. He asked where I needed to go. I told
him the barracks at the base of the hill the radar station was on, in the middle
of camp. I said he could drop me at the air strip and I would catch a ride.
Crash said, “I can get you closer than that.” He dropped the bird in the middle
of an intersection, a block from the barracks, trucks and jeeps coming to a
halt. I get out with my ruck and weapon, everyone that is stopped is saluting
me. They must have thought I was some high ranking officer. Top is standing in
the company street when I get there. He asked me, “What the hell do you think
you are doing?” I tell him that it was Crash’s idea. He just shook his head and
While in An Khe I was given the task, along with a group of guys, of clearing
the brush and trees from the side of the radar station hill. It is steep and
rocky. We have only one chain saw, a couple of axes and a few machetes. There
was one very tall tree, probably 100 feet tall and five feet across the trunk,
too big for the chain saw. The engineer in charge, packed two cases of C-4 into
the roots around the base, ran detcord down the hill to a vacant barracks by the
wire and when everyone had cleared the area, he ignited the det cord. In a flash
the C-4 exploded. The huge tree went straight up into the air like a rocket in
slow motion. As it reached its apex, it slowly rolled on its side and came
crashing down. It was such a huge explosion, that there were many complaints and
broken windows. That brought our clearing project to a halt.
Several days later, I’m back on the hill with the rest of the guys. One of them
has acquired a puppy from the locals, cute little bugger. He follows Bitch every
where she goes. Bitch was following some of the guys going out on patrol and no
one grabbed the puppy, so he ran out through the concertina, hooked his belly
and ripped it wide open. The intestines were hanging out. We asked the platoon
leader what we could do. He said that we might be able to get a bird to take him
back to a veterinarian. All the choppers were committed to other missions and we
wouldn’t be able to get one for days. The pup was in agony, so I asked for
permission to shoot the pup to end it’s misery with an M-79 shotgun round. I
felt so terrible having to do that.
On one of our three day patrols, we stopped at an abandoned French farm house.
It was a pineapple plantation and I picked one of the fruit and ate it, what a
treat. One of the guys decided to stay stoned the entire three days. Glad we
didn’t see any action. We were visited by some of the local kids. I had them
fill our canteens and gave them a few dollars for their work. I had taken off my
boots and socks to let my feet air out for awhile, when the kids saw my bare
feet. They were amazed, pointing and smiling. I don’t know if they had never
seen feet that white or that all my toes touched each other, not being spread
out by paddy mud.
C-rats and humping the hills must be agreeing with me, I have put on 35 lbs,
mostly muscle in the legs and back. Had a bad bout with walking pneumonia, that
lasted a couple of weeks. No one would let me go on ambush or patrol with them.
All that hacking and gacking might give them away to the VC. What a miserable
climate to be in with that crud. I thought I was going to die. The medics
couldn’t do anything for me. I finally got better, but it sapped the energy our
We spent a few days with another ARVN Outpost. It is the first time we have
gotten to use a starlight scope. Kind of strange viewing, reminded me of early
TV pictures, all green and fuzzy, but they really did work. Most of the ARVN’s
were pretty good guys. They shared a few meals with me. Had one jerk that
thought he should work his martial arts on me. I threatened to shoot him if he
did. He left me alone after that. When the company left the OP, there wasn’t
enough room for me to fly out, so I had to stay for another day. It was a pretty
boring night. My Vietnamese is poor. I understand more that I can speak. I
finally get a ride out the next day, back to camp and English speaking friends.
I have been sent back to Camp Enari on two different occasions; don’t recall the
exact time frame, once to work with a Kit Carson Scout. I was there about three
days, when I was informed that the Scout had died from Malaria. Shot that plan
in the butt. At that time Top was going through the barracks informing all the
slackers that they would be on the next convoy back to the field. Those guys
were selling everything they could, stereos, tape recorders, what ever they had.
Some tried arguing with Top, but it didn’t work. They were all loaded and
trucked out. My second trip back to Camp Enari, was to learn to be a sniper.
Someone decided we needed a sniper and I was volunteered. After being in the
rear for a few days, they changed their minds and back to the field I went.
Another plan shot down. Guess I was destined to be a grunt.
We were going to a hill near Dak To, to work for awhile. We were taken to an air
strip for a helicopter ride up. It was raining a little bit, not heavy, just a
light sprinkle. We were loaded onto dome old Sikorsky birds with Vietnamese
pilots. We sat in those old vibrating machines for nearly an hour, waiting for
the rain to let up. We were finally told to unload, because the pilots couldn’t
fly in the rain. We were reloaded onto a Chinook. By then it was getting dark.
When we reached the hill, it was dark and the LZ was so small, that the Chinook
could only touch its rear wheels down and hover at an angle. The ramp was
lowered and we started to unload. I was given 2 cases of PRC-25 batteries to
carry off, plus all my gear. About half way down the ramp, I stepped on a spot
of hydraulic oil. My feet went out from under me and the batteries and I both
slid out the back and hit on the ground. The batteries, both cases, went
bouncing down the side of the hill. One of the SGT’s told me to go get them. I
told him I would get them in the morning, when it was light and I could take a
couple of guys for security. He reluctantly agreed. Several days later, an
extended LP was set outside our perimeter. About ten o’clock at night one of the
guys in the LP, not sure what unit he was with, decided to return to the
perimeter. He was shot and killed by the perimeter guard. He had not radioed in
and did not announce himself, so he was mistaken for a VC. A couple of weeks
later, we were visited by some USO Donut Dollies, friendly ladies, playing
games, chatting, trying to boost morale. Recall one who’s last name was Sellers.
Ran into her at the hospital at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 1970. I thanked
her for her work with the USO.
Back at the lone hill near An Khe, we read in the “Stars and Stripes” about
three soldiers in the jungle at night set on an ambush. While two slept, the
third was on guard, being stalked by a tiger. The tiger grabbed the guard by the
head and was dragging him off for a late night snack. The guard had the presence
of mind to hold onto his M-16 and put it on automatic and fired in the direction
of the tiger. The animal dropped him and ran. I must have been a long night
If it weren’t for the mosquitoes trying to give you Malaria, the water buffalo
trying to run you over, the snakes trying to give you your last three steps,
spiders, centipedes, scorpions, trying to make life miserable, tigers trying to
make a meal of you, and the enemy trying to maim or kill you, we could have had
a pretty good time in Nam.
Almost the entire company came down with amoebic dysentery. It was thought that
it came from washing our mess trays in old water, that hadn’t been changed or
heated properly. The heater that went down the sides of the metal trash cans we
washed trays in, didn’t work very often. What a miserable ordeal that was. There
wasn’t enough fuel to burn the barrels off, so a pit was dug and the barrels
were emptied into it and covered with lime. Anything we ate would either come up
and out or go down and out almost immediately. About the only thing that would
stay down was the C-ration crackers and cheese or peanut butter. I don’t know
how many pair of shorts I had to cut off, just by trying to squeak out a fart.
Wound up losing about 35 lbs. in three weeks. We all looked like death warmed
over. I never regained any of that weight I had put on.
I had made the decision to re-enlist, to get out of the Infantry and be a door
gunner on the choppers. I went back to Camp Enari one last time to sign my life
away. I signed the papers for another two years, got an Honorable Discharge
after the paperwork was done and a thirty day leave back home. I was told that
the orders would be sent to my home. The next day I was taken to Cam Rahn Bay
airstrip for my trip home to the real world. I had to wait for two days for my
flight, but that was OK. Sitting at the airport with nothing to do, I remembered
I had an AK-47 round in my gear from Hill 467. I decided to wear it on a chain,
so I took my pocket knife and bored two small holes in the sides of it and
dumped the powder in the trash. There was a young Vietnamese man sitting at an
engraving machine in the airport. I asked if he could etch some words on the
side of the round. He said he would try. I had him etch “War is Hell, but actual
combat is a son of a bitch.” I still have that round. I was surprised to find
that the casing of the AK-47 round was steel, with a copper or brass plating.
Must be cheaper to make than our brass casings.
While sitting in the airport, I met a young Buddhist Monk, dressed in yellow
robes. What an intelligent young man. He had some seminary training in
California. He could speak French, both North and South Vietnamese dialects,
Chinese, German and English. He noticed that I was wearing a St. Christopher
medal and asked if I was Catholic. I told him no, that I just wore it for good
luck. He asked if I was Protestant or Baptist. I told him no. He then asked what
religion I was and I told him maybe a little of all. That we all have a God, but
they may look differently. He paused for a moment, and then nodded agreement.
The young man took two Vietnamese 1 Dong coins from his purse, put them between
his thumbs as he held his hands in prayer, said a low prayer, and then placed
them in my hand. He said he hoped they would bring me luck. I still have one of
the coins. He was one of the greatest people I have yet to encounter.
The trip home was an exciting event. We had a stop in Japan of about an hour. I
was able to purchase a Cannon 35mm camera and a genuine Rolex Oysterdate wrist
watch for less than a quarter of the Stateside cost. A short stop in Hawaii to
refuel, then off to Fort Lewis. Arriving at customs, my duffle bag came down the
belt. The customs officer asked it I had any explosives or weapons in the bag. I
replied no, that I had left all that back in Vietnam. He said you’re clear to
go. I thought, if I had known it was that easy, I would have brought back a
hundred pounds of weed and gotten rich. We were bussed to Ft. Lewis, where we
turned in all our jungle gear and were fitted with a new set of Dress Greens.
There was some rude SOB working in supply, who gave me a pair of pants that were
about 8 inches too long. When I asked if he had a shorter pair, he just said
take what you get. I snatched a stapler from his counter and stapled the cuff
hems up to a decent length so I would at least look presentable. The flight home
was by military standby. On one of the layovers I had spent too much time in the
bar across from the waiting area. When I was finally called to bard the plane, I
had had a bit too much to drink. As I boarded the plane I could hear this loud
pitched voice calling, “Robert.” As I sat in my seat and buckled up, I was
approached by a former girl friend from Vermontville, MI, Dorothy Marshall. She
was one of the stewardesses on that flight. We spoke briefly. She said that her
older brother was on the plane also returning from Vietnam. I was exhausted and
went right to sleep and didn’t wake up until we landed in Lansing. I hadn’t told
my folks that I was coming home, so I was hoping to surprise them. I called my
friend from Charlotte, Brian Fernster, for a ride home. He and his wife and
daughter picked me up and took me home. I was so happy to see them again.
Needless to say, the folks were surprised to see me walk through the door. Maybe
a little scary, I had lost so much weight in such a short time, dark circles
around my eyes and not much color. Sleeping in that comfy bed was a real treat.
I slept like a rock, until morning. Mother came in to wake me up. She grabbed my
shoulder and shook me. I came up suddenly with a fright. The look on her face
and probably mine said it all. I told her next time to just tap me on the foot
and I would wake right up. Several days went by and I visited family and
friends. The folks gave me a large manila envelope form the Army. When I opened
it, I found the Bronze Star with “V” device award. Not much was said. I returned
it to the envelope and put it away. The awards I would like to have are the
Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge. Those are the closest to my heart and
experiences in Vietnam.
I had decided to go to Charlotte about 20 miles from my folk’s home. I didn’t
have any civilian clothes that fit or a car to drive, so I put on my Dress
Greens and decided to hitch hike. The two lane dirt road that leads to the main
highway back to Charlotte was only about 4 miles long not much traffic. That 4
miles was easy walking. When I got to Lansing Road, there would be plenty of
traffic and catching a ride would be easy. As I walked with my thumb sticking in
the air, the cars would just blow right past me. A few of the kind people would
raise their hand and show me their IQ. I continued to walk, thumb in the air and
a smile on my face. I was a patriotic individual. I was sure somebody would give
me a lift. Boy was I wrong. I walked the entire distance. I swore to never wear
that uniform in public again. I was so proud of what we had been through. That
was a tough lesson to learn, but the public had shown me more. You didn’t dare
mention that you had fought in Vietnam. There would be all kinds of comments
against you and your fellow soldiers. I never mentioned my service to anyone and
never put it on a job application.
Several weeks went by, my hair was looking better and the mustache I started in
Vietnam was looking pretty good. My friend Mike Hill and I decided to go to the
Ionia Free Fair. I was up for that. We stopped at one of the shooting booths.
You had to cut out a star with an automatic BB gun and 100 BB’s. I cut that star
out cleanly and got this great big teddy bear, which I shortly gave away. We
walked up the midway, stopped at another shooting booth like the first. The
carnie told me I was not allowed to play the game. Apparently he had been told I
had won at the other stand. It was getting late as Mike and I walked the midway.
The crowd and ride noise kept me from hearing the mortar that shoots the aerial
grenade signaling the start of the fireworks. When the grenade exploded, I was
in the middle of the midway, laying face down with my arms covering my head.
Mike asked if I was OK. I nodded yes, but my heart was pounding and the
adrenalin was pumping. Everyone looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo. It
took quite a while to get back to a reasonable state of mind.
Check out the photo gallery from
4 APR 69
4 APR 69
8 APR 69
8 APR 69
17 APR 69
17 APR 69
We just finished moving to An Khe where we are going to start a pacification
program. We will search and clear the area, then help the people with medical
and dental teams, schools, relocating small villages into larger ones in more
easily defended areas, etc..
19 APR 69
19 APR 69
24 APR 69
24 APR 69
I'm in An Khe again. I have to go to the field for a few days to get some
papers signed by Capt. De Roos. I will have to come back then to pick up the
payroll. After payday I will be staying out in the field most of the time to
give Capt. De Roos a break and get used to running the company. We are set up
on a patrol base on the only hill within 12
klicks, sending out patrols and
ambushes. Not much work, but a real chore
trying to keep up with all the patrols and their locations. I am trying to get
my 30-day leave set for the middle of June to the middle of July. I'm still
not sure about the
R&R to Australia.
1 MAY 69
1 MAY 69
The monsoon season is here again. It rains almost everyday now.
12 MAY 69
12 MAY 69
20 MAY 69
Appointed CO HHC 1/8th. 1SGT Clarence Butler, hardcore and effective.
Black NCO with no nonsense command style.
24 MAY 69
24 MAY 69
29 MAY 69
29 MAY 69
Well I am now Headquarters Company Commander. I will keep it until I get my
photo was taken while Lt. Owens and I were
visiting a nearby village, trying to win their "hearts and minds".
1 JUL 69
1 JUL 69
The monsoon rains have hit in full force at last, and it has rained
continuously for the last four days. The fine dust that was all over the
ground is now in the form of a liquid mud that manages to get all over
everything and into open or closed containers. The fog is creating problems,
because we have to keep people on the bunker line on guard duty all day now.
Other than the fact that the weather is miserable, things are going pretty
well. I am enclosing some pictures I took when I was
XO of Bravo Company, just out of Polei Kleng.
I found them in my
rucksack when I went to turn it in. In one of
them you can see how dust it is during the dry season by the dust on my face.
This is a booklet put out by the Public Information Officer about the Fourth Infantry Division's role here in Vietnam.
on the image above to page through the pamphlet.
8 JUL 69
800 men from 9th Infantry sent home. First stage of phased troop withdrawals.
Newspaper article about my
receiving Bronze Star for Meritorious Service.
Army press release about my
12 AUG 69
Newspaper article on my receipt
of Air Medal.
7 SEP 69
This is the 4th Infantry Division quarterly publication for Fall 1969. It
provides a record of the action for the Division. I would like to get other
official in country publications to put on the site.
Click on the cover image to page through "Esprit" Fall 1969.
Orders cut for Captain. This is the
local newspaper article on my promotion.
16 OCT 69
16 OCT 69
I got here safe and sound (obvious since I'm writing this letter). I am Delta
Company Commander and will be impossibly busy from now till March.
Letter addressed CPT Steedly, Pleiku. I inventoried Delta Company's property
here in base camp, and spoke with the company clerk. I then packed my
rucksack and got a
CAR-15. Will go forward tomorrow.
17 OCT 69
17 OCT 69
18 OCT 69
I came out to
LZ Pat to see the Colonel and stayed since my
company came here also. I am now in charge of Delta Company 1st Bn 8th
XO is 1LT. John Hines, 1SG Madden is our "top
TOC is located up here with us, and the usual
problems of being on the same firebase with the boss. Sent second platoon to
secure a tank for 1/69 armor. Had to borrow some rations from Capt Gold of A
Company to give them. Third Platoon is on
ambush. Lt. North is 20
klicks from help of any kind. I hope nothing
goes wrong. First impression of Lt. Holder is, plenty of potential, but
needs to be motivated. Top is calm and efficient. We are going to get along
just great I think. Mortar section needs some work.
16,17,19 OCT 69
16,17,19 OCT 69
Ran Mang Yang Pass with mail truck to get to An Khe. I am going out to take
over Delta Company tomorrow and will be very busy till the 7th because we are
moving 30 miles north of here to "Bong Song" near the coast.
19 OCT 69
19 OCT 69
LZ Pat---Expect 2nd & 3rd platoons back
tomorrow with 1st on 15-minute standby. Required daily rations of
Dapsone visually verified by squad leaders
and once a week rations for
Chloraquine-Primaquine visual verified by
platoon leaders . Also by Sunday a report on protective masks and
steel pot needed. Daily by 07:00 weapons
cleanliness status report. Briefed
RTO on my radio policies. Put out word
about grenades double pinned, taped & in pouches. Got in Beer & Soda today 56
cases. Finally got my
rucksack. In about 3 or 4 days I will be
moving Delta to take up road security along QL19 (14) from An Khe to the Mang
Yang Pass. Around the 1st of the month we are going to move the entire Bn. to
Bong Song, 30 Kilo's North of An Khe, near the coast. It's still raining off
and on so things get pretty bad every now and then, but no enemy action yet.
20 OCT 69
Finally got orders cut making me CO D Co. 1/8th.
22 OCT 69
22 OCT 69
I am acting as a "switching station" right now. Sending my 4 platoons here,
there, and yonder as Bn CO directs.
27 OCT 69
Charlie hit the oil pipeline around noon, we sure keep very busy here at
28-30 OCT 1969
Inside An Ambush Killing Zone
Skip sections in
red and italics
if your are easily upset. They contain very graphic and upsetting
descriptions of combat.
The story will still
be complete without reading those sections.
28 OCT 1969
I need help sorting out this story. I am not sure of the
dates or the names of many of those involved. It is a prime example of the
easy mission that can suddenly become a life and death nightmare. It is the
story of an
seen from inside the kill zone. I was Delta Company Commander and we had just been put on perimeter
security duty at Camp Radcliff, in An Khe. The local
battalion was attacking the perimeter several times a week. It was serious duty,
but my troops looked on it as party time, sneaking out through the wire at night
to go down to the local village. Keeping everyone alert to security was a
real chore. Just in from LZ PAT on pipeline and bridge security, we had been on perimeter duty, with occasional duty as a
ready reaction force
for several days, when I got the mission to locate the
firing positions of a mortar that had been shelling the base camp. We trucked
down QL19 highway to just the other side of An Tuc and began
climbing up hill 674. We climbed up the
nearest the road, but it
got really steep towards the top. The view from the top was breathtaking. We could look down on Radcliff, QL19
and the local villages. We then proceeded to cross the
Hill 684. On the back side of Hill 684 we found a mortar pit dug into a lower
peak. It was shielded from An Khe by Hill 684 itself, which made it very hard to see or hit from
Camp Radcliff. We noted it's location and carefully misadjusted their aiming
stakes before returning to base camp late in the afternoon. We were
attacked along the bunker line again
that night. On our side of the perimeter the bunkers were so far apart,
that line of sight observation between bunkers was impossible even in the day time. The
sappers who came into the perimeter probably were probably coming in through our sector. I
had complained about the lack of coverage to battalion the first day we took
over the bunker line and they promised to look into it.
29 OCT 1969
The next morning, still exhausted from being
all night along the bunker line, we were given the mission of conducting a
reconnaissance along another ridge line a little further down QL19 and on the
other side of the road. We trucked to a field about a hundred yards from
the ridgeline. The ridge was covered in hundred foot trees
with bamboo and vines thickly filling in the under story. The few small
clearings were filled with waist high elephant grass and saw grass. As we unloaded and got
assembled to move out, we took sniper fire from multiple positions along the ridge. Since we were
out in the open field, we were sitting ducks. Luckily no one was hit seriously and our
initial "mad minute" gave us enough time to find what low spots were available
cover. About that time a
Duster and a
pulled off the road on their way to An Khe to escort a convoy. The track
commander came running
over and asked if we could use some fire power. I said hell yes, pointed him toward
the ridge line and told him to blanket the area. After about five minutes of the
most intense demonstration of firepower I had ever witnessed, they came over and
asked if I thought that was sufficient. I said that I thought that would do, and
thanked them profusely. I remember sending the walking wounded back to An Khe on
the Quad 50 deuce and a half. As
the duster and quad continued on their way to An Khe. We dug in and set up a
perimeter for the night.
30 OCT 1969
Early the next day we moved into the
jungle and had to use
machetes to get on top of the ridge line. On top we found a
crude trail headed back in the direction of An Khe. As is frequently the case,
Delta Company only had one platoon leader who could be trusted to read the map
well enough to get us to our destination without having to back track and climb
ridges and hills for nothing. His platoon was therefore given more than
their share of
point man duty. It was unfair, but better than having to
climb hills unnecessarily. Since this promised to be an easy route to
navigate, I decided to let one of my less experienced platoon leaders take the
lead. As you will soon find out, that was a fatal mistake.
As usual, I traveled with my
headquarters group about a third of the way back from the lead element. The lead
platoon had just finished crossing a small waist high saw grass clearing between
two small hills along the ridge line, when I began to notice indentations in the
red clay, where small rocks had been removed. It made me think of
someone collecting stones to put into overhead
cover for a bunker.
I was about fifty feet into the clearing. I reached for
the radio I carried
hidden in my rucksack to call the lead platoon and warn them to be on the
lookout for bunkers and a possible
Suddenly the far tree line lit up with muzzle flashes and mortar rounds started
exploding all around me. The soldier in front of me hit me in the chest hard,
knocking me to the ground. I lay there, stunned, the word
!!! exploding into my mind. The noise
was incredible. I grabbed the radio handset and called the lead platoon, but got no
with bullets mowing the saw grass down like a
giant lawn mower, I found myself looking
directly into the moist, waxy, pink cavity that had held the brains of the
soldier who slammed into me seconds before. He had been hit by a single bullet
in the forehead which blew the top of his skull off spraying his
brains all over the place. His eyes were
wide open, but they were like doll's eyes, lifeless. I knew him well, but
did not know his name.
Suddenly a bullet hit the ground inches from my
face and sprayed dirt into my eyes stinging like bees. I blinked furiously
to get my vision cleared. I had every muscle in my body tensed to the
point of pain. I was afraid to lift up and look around, because the
bullets were cutting the grass off less than a foot above the ground. As the
initial bursts of gunfire subsided, I could hear the screams of men getting
hit as they lay in the open clearing. I realized there must be snipers in
the trees picking us off one by one. I wanted to get up and run to the
concealment and safety of the jungle, but standing would get you mowed down like
the saw grass and even movement might attract the attention of one of the
snipers. Staying put was also certain death. I was frozen
with fear. I closed my eyes and began to sob as the sounds of battle faded
away. I knew I was going to die. I don't know how long I lay there
paralyzed with fear, withdrawn deep inside my own mind. Eventually I opened my
eyes again, amazingly detached, having somehow forgotten about my imminent death.
I felt the warmth of the sun on my cheek and noted the two inch layer of mulched
saw grass covering everything. As I took my first deep breath in quite
awhile, I could smell the wonderful fragrance of fresh cut grass. Then suddenly the sounds of battle came
rushing back with startling reality
and frightening loudness.
that time I noticed that a few inches from my face a line of carpenter
ants were marching along in a solid column, carrying bits of vegetation, beetle
bodies, grasshopper legs, and some glossy pink chunks of fungus to feed their
colony. I was amazed that life was going on as normal as ever for these
creatures in the midst of my personal chaos. As I lay there deciding what to do
next, I slowly became aware of a large chunk of the ham and eggs luncheon meat I
had eaten for breakfast still lodged in the corner of my mouth. I chewed
it and swallowed, puzzled how such a large chunk could have remained in my mouth
undetected until now. While I lay there assessing my situation, I felt
safe as long as I did not move. I still heard the
crack of bullets breaking the sound barrier inches above my head, still heard
the mortars and grenades exploding, still heard that distinctive crack of the
AK-47's, but somehow it didn't seem to
connect with my own mortality. Once again I focused on the chain of
ants, carrying their large, moist, waxy, pink...CHUNKS OF BRAIN!!!! OH MY GOD
! NOooo...ooo...ooo !!! My whole
body contracted in a painful convulsion, as reality sank into my consciousness.
Horrifying total reality...it was not ham and eggs, but a chunk of the dead
soldiers brains that I had idly chewed and swallowed! I have never, ever vomited like that. It was very painful, knocking the
air from my lungs, as my whole body contracted in an effort to expel the entire
contents of my stomach. The solid stream of vomit shot over four feet
through the air. The contraction lasted until I began to see spots dancing
in front of my eyes, about to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. With my
last once of strength, I forced myself to inhale, taking only a small gasp,
before the second convulsion began. So it continued forever, it seemed.
Eventually I had no more fluids to expel, so I just dry heaved, struggling to
get enough air to remain conscious. I don't know how long it continued.
Eventually I found that if I inhaled very shallow and slowly, I could prevent
the heaves from coming back. As I knelt there, the total fear that had
consumed me before, was now replaced with a soul consuming anger. The
gunfire had settled down to sporadic outbursts and the occasional single sniper
shots. I suddenly realized that I had gotten up on my hands and knees
during the vomiting.
I quickly looked around me
and saw a soldier get hit by a sniper as he lay flat on the ground. It was obvious that we were not
safe out in the open with those snipers in the trees. Dropping back down,
I took the handset to call my platoon leaders, but
a bullet had torn through the backpack and destroyed my radio. My
headquarters element was about twenty feet to my rear, so I low crawled over to
them and took the handset of my RTO's radio. He said he had some
on the line. I first tuned to the company frequency and attempted to
contact the lead platoon, but got no reply. Next I got on the air with the
FAC and told them I
desperately needed sir support, but still did
not know where my front lines were and would get back to him. I called the platoon leaders of the
second and third platoons and told them we had to move out across the clearing,
link up with the lead platoon and cover their withdrawal. Then I got up and
holding the handset and ordered everyone to move out. I looked around and
everyone was staring at me like I was mad. About that time, one of the
snipers shot the wires off the radio, right where they entered the handset I was
about to talk through. I threw the severed handset to my RTO and told him to splice the
wires back together before we all died here. Then with an insane anger, I
took out my 45 cal. pistol and starting shouting obscenities at the snipers, as
I traded shots with them, all the while yelling at everyone that we had to get
to the far tree line before they picked us all off one at a time.
The dirt was kicking up around me, but for some unknown reason those snipers did
not seem to be able to hit me. My insanity, which I guess everyone mistook
for bravery, finally gave them the courage to get up, return fire, and run for
the far side of the clearing. With a fighting force under my command
again, we proceeded to move up to the trapped lead platoon. I set up
headquarters just inside the far tree line as my medic, took off low crawling towards the front of the column to
tend the wounded. My mortar section caught up to me about this time. I
told them to call the second platoon, who finally had the lead element in site and
fire everything they had in support of the withdrawal.
About then the
rear platoon came up to find out what was going on. I told them to take
his platoon around the right flank to provide the lead elements some covering
fire as they withdrew. In the meantime my RTO had repaired the radio. The
mortar section leader reported that they had lost radio contact with the second platoon
and had no more ammo left. I told him to take his RTO
and go forward to adjust the
gun ships and artillery on the enemy in preparation
for the withdrawal. He looked me in the eye and I could tell he was really
scared but he moved out anyhow. I never heard from him again. Doc came crawling up on his hands and knees dragging a wounded man, who
was holding on with his hands locked around Doc's neck. Doc had been
grazed on the shoulder, a one inch deep groove, just missing his collar bone. I
had the remainder of the mortar squad take the wounded man back across the clearing and set up a perimeter to receive us as we pulled back. Things
were really hectic. People were dying every second. The lead platoons radio was out. The second platoons
radio was out. The mortar section radio was out. My personal radio was dead.
All I had was the third platoon radio, which was moving around to the right flank and one
repaired radio in my headquarters section. My RTO was having to switch
back and forth continuously from the battalion frequency, to the
frequency, to the artillery frequency, and back to the company frequency.
Third platoon called to say they were almost in position. Doc was patched up and
started to go forward again, when I grabbed him and told him to get someone up
there on a radio. As he disappeared, I marveled at the courage it must
have taken to go up there without even a weapon. Other soldiers began to
move past my position carrying wounded. Doc showed up again, low crawling
and dragging another wounded man. This time he had taken a round through
his buttocks. Finally someone came on the radio to say that they had gotten
everyone and were beginning to pull back. I told them to pop smoke and
haul ass. Then I called third platoon and asked them if they could see the
smoke. They said they had heard it, so I told them to give the enemy a
mad minute, then pop two smokes and meet us back on the other side of the clearing.
As soon as I heard the
mad minute stop, I had my RTO tell the
gun ships to
destroy the entire ridge line from the smoke back towards An Khe, then clear the
line from Camp Radcliff, so I could get some artillery to cover our retreat.
There were suddenly lots of very scared troops moving very fast past us. I
can still see their eyes, wide, white, darting.
When the lead element of the rescuing platoon got to my position, I asked if
they had gotten everyone. They said all but two, both KIA. I asked
if we could get to the bodies and he said flatly, NO. He said
one man had been blown to pieces. Two people had seen him as a mortar round made
a direct hit and when the smoke cleared, he simply wasn't there anymore.
The other man had been hit twice in the chest and as he fell, another round blew
his face off. They were sure that both were dead, so we pulled back into
our perimeter. The last man to return was a machine gunner we called
"South Philly". He was young black man from the streets of Philadelphia ,
who was shot to pieces. He had at least five wounds that I could see.
He and another man with a sucking chest wound needed immediate evacuation. They
told me that he just stood up and traded round for round with the NVA machine
guns, until they were all silenced. As we began to move back, I passed the
soldier who had fallen into me during the initial assault and I tried to get
someone to carry his body back into the tree line. Two people tried, but as soon
as they saw the top of his head missing, they starting throwing up, just as I
had done earlier. I bent down to pick him up myself, but after several
tries, my 110 pound frame just wasn't up to the task of lifting a 175 pound
corpse. About that time, a soldier came up to me and said the would carry
him. He said he was a cop from Seattle, Washington and had handled bodies
before. He bent down and lifted the corps onto his shoulders in a
fireman's carry, turned and was off at a trot.
When I reached the perimeter, Doc said we needed to get two people out now or
they would be dead before we reached the road. I called battalion and
requested immediate Dust-Off, asking for the
jungle penetrator, explaining that
the two wounded would not make it to the road. I also asked for a standby
Dustoff for the other four wounded, when we reached the road. I checked
in with the
FAC and he said they had expended all their
ordinance, so I thanked him
and said I was turning on the artillery, so they needed to keep clear of the
gun target line. I contacted the artillery and asked for a
mission all along the ridge line from my position back 500 yards towards An Khe. We
started moving back towards the field beside the road and had descended the
ridge line to the valley floor, when the Dustoff called. We popped smoke and they hovered overhead
They pulled the machine gunner, out. The second man was not conscious, so
they sent a man down with the penetrator to assist in hauling him up. We got them hooked onto the penetrator and they moving up through the trees. At about thirty feet,
AK47 fire started from the ridge line. I saw
the wounded man and the rescue man both take hits. My men started shooting
like it was the end of the world. The penetrator finally cleared the
canopy and the
chopper moved away, with
both men dangling below on the cable,
looking unconscious. I
called for some artillery on the ridge line and began walking it down the hill
as we began moving towards the road again. Twice I had it so close that
shrapnel was whizzing over our heads, but it definitely made the NVA get their
heads down and stopped the
When we reached the edge of the jungle, I called for the second
Medevac. None were available, so one of the battalion
C&C birds came in to pick up the
wounded. One of our injured had died in route and there was the one who died in
front of me. We loaded the four walking wounded and began to loading the
ponchos with the dead, when the officer from battalion tried to tell us he
would not take our dead. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember
drawing my 45 with full intentions of shooting him dead. He backed off
with his hands in the air and we
loaded the bodies. About that time a ready reaction unit from Radcliff
linked up with us. I briefed them about the two missing
described the terrain. They moved out to attempt to find the bodies and
engage anyone left. We moved across the field to the road and were
convoyed back to base camp a short time later.
James Herin-Assistant Machine Gunner
Verification of the KIA and naming of the WIA has been confirmed by Gary McNeely
was an 11B, who was selected by CPT Caldwell to be Company Clerk from AUG 1969
'till his DEROS in JAN 1970.
only four pages of this issue, but I think the article on page 2 refers to these
Click on picture to read.
I want to express my total admiration for the courage of
my Medic, who went forward to tend to the
wounded knowing full well that I had already sent two other groups forward
only to lose contact with them. Both of the times he was wounded, he could have
stayed put and waited for other men to bring the wounded to him. I asked for him
to receive a silver star, but wish I had put him for the Medal of
Honor. I do not know what he finally got, but he will always have my
undying respect. I only hope his people back in the world have some idea
what a truly brave hero he was.
I also want to comment on the incredible courage of the machine
gunner who kept hosing down the enemy lines, even as he was being shot up
himself. His withering fire allowed our troops to pull back. We may
all owe our very lives to this heroic individual.
Lastly, I want to state, that the entire unit performed
extremely well, in the face of such a deadly disaster. The NVA setup and
pulled off a classic
ambush and we were the unfortunate victims for a change.
We really did not make any mistakes, we just ran out of luck. How we acted
after that is the stuff of legends. I still cannot believe 19, 20, 21 year
old civilians, mere kids, many not old enough to vote or drink beer yet, after only a
year or less of training, could perform such larger than life deeds. I think
every last one of them deserve medals. I put up this website so
those of you lucky enough not to have had these kinds of life altering
experiences, might begin to understand the horrors of war and appreciate the
daily courage and bravery of those who served in Vietnam and all the other wars
fought for this country and by others for their country..
Finally, I apologize to the many men whose stories I forgot to
tell. I also apologize for any factual errors included herein. This
is the story as best as I can remember it after all this time. Please
correct me, add more details, give me names...I want to find out as much about
these events as I can. Through the fog of war and decades of time, much of
this story has escaped me. I very, very much regret that I do not remember more names,
but after you make friends with a couple of FNG's only to have to load their
body bags on a
chopper a few weeks later, you start deliberately avoiding names.
You use rank, position, nicknames...any thing to keep from getting too close. That
is what a leader finds himself doing to keep from letting the terrible truth get
to him. Looking people in the eye and telling them to do things to keep the unit from being wiped out, all the while knowing that they will
probably not come back alive, is haunting memory that many small unit commanders
struggle with for the rest of their lives. I had terrible nightmares about
those decisions for decades after I returned. For the first six or eight
years I would often wake up in the middle of the night, vomiting, terrified, reliving the
horror of that day all over again. I still find the color pink and any moist waxy substances
very disturbing. I regret so very deeply, that I do not even know his
name. The bad part is that he was only one of many, whose faces still
haunt me to this very day.Last but most importantly I want to commend
those men in the lead platoon, who withstood the brunt of the ambush. Their
courage is beyond words. I was nearly a hundred meters back from their position
and I was scared to death. The courage it took for them to collect their wounded
and withdraw under fire is totally amazing. I wonder if
I would have had such courage. I think often of the brave men who died in that ambush. I will
never forget them. I wish I had known all the details of their struggles. Many of them should have gotten
medals for heroism, but probably didn't. That happened a lot. Heroes often go unsung in the heat of combat.
PPS: and to my family and friends who wondered why
I was so quiet and withdrawn, when I returned home........
But I was one of the lucky ones. I got back whole and after more
than thirty years, I am still alive and sane. I have even found happiness,
in a marriage which fairy tales are written about.
Thank you, Tibby.
31 OCT 69
31 OCT 69
Pat. I have been real busy since Charlie
decided to hit the pipeline again. 12:00 noon on the 27th he began blowing
roads and pipelines, and we've been busy ever since. Time sure is passing
fast. We haven't been paid yet. I spend most of the time in the air or on the
ground chasing Charlie, so I don't get much time to write. Got a real bad
morale problem, because they have had so many different Company Commanders in
the last 6 months. I hope to get them working as a team again.
7 NOV 69
7 NOV 69
The weather has turned just terrible, rain and wind all day and all night.
Really miserable living out here in the field. Mud gets on everything. Freeze
at night and sweat all day, soaked with rain most of the time.
10 NOV 69
10 NOV 69
Pat. I just finished a night combat
assault. When I jumped from the
I sank over my head into the soft mud of an old rice paddy.
The only thing that saved me was my RTO, who saw my hand sticking out of the
water, holding the radio handset from the PRC/25, that I carried in my rucksack.
It took him and two other guys to pull me out of the mud. Some fun.
Turns out the LRRPS we were sent to rescue, just got spooked. There was no
enemy around, that we could find. I sure do keep busy as a
Commander! You just wouldn't
believe it. From 01:00 at night to 04:30 in the morning for sleep, if I'm
lucky, but I don't even notice it. It has turned rainy and cool with high
winds here, and anything hot sure is good. Got to run, they just blew the
11 NOV 69
11 NOV 69
Pat. I just can't possibly explain how
busy I am as a commander. I have over 100 people who look to me for everything and
that's a full time job. We captured an NVA
soldier and a chopper came in to take him back to base camp for interrogation.
On the chopper was an American NCO, a Captain, a "Civilian "Interrogator"
(introduced as a member of the Phoenix Program) and one Vietnamese soldier. They
took the prisoner and headed back to the chopper pad. About five minutes later,
one of my men came to my CP and told me that they were torturing the prisoner
down by the helipad. I grabbed my pistol, and headed out. My 1SGT followed,
bringing along a machine gunner and several other soldiers. When I got to the
pad, the "Civilian" had my prisoner, with his hands still tied behind his back,
on the ground, the two American soldiers standing on his upper arms, pinning min
to the ground. They had wrapped a towel around the prisoner's head and the
"Civilian" was pouring water from a canteen onto the towel, choking the
prisoner. The Vietnamese soldier was shouting questions to the prisoner. I ran
up drawing my 45 cal pistol and chambered a round pointing it straight at the
"Civilian" telling him to stop or I would shoot him dead on the spot. He
laughed, then started to reach for his own weapon, when the machine gunner let
out a long burst over our heads. I turned around to see nearly a dozen of my men
drawing down on the scene. The "Civilian" brought his hands up slowly and
started backing up. I told them to take the prisoner back to my unit trains
area, where they would be met my supply sergeant, who would accompany them to
the Provost Marshall's Office to turn the prisoner over to the proper
authorities. I assured him that if the prisoner did not arrive at the trains
area, or if anything untoward happened to him on the way, every man in my unit
would make it their personal mission to find and execute them all. Since I had
two men going back on the chopper for sick call, I was certain they would not
chance any more mischief. The "Civilian" looking quite terrified at this point,
turned and got into the helicopter. The other American soldiers and the
Vietnamese soldier loaded the prisoner and left, without any of them making eye
contact again. I called my trains area and told the supply sergeant the
situation. He returned my call a couple of hours later, stating that the Provost
Marshall had taken charge of the prisoner and assured him that no such
interrogation procedures would be tolerated within his perimeter. I never saw
any of the people involved again. I have never quite gotten over this incident.
To hear that we still employ "water boarding"...and do not consider it torture
is very upsetting. Perhaps we should tie the president down and pour water up
his nose for a half hour and let him see if he still thinks it is not torture!
If my sergeant had not taken the step of backing me up with the machine gunner,
I do not know what might have happened. I know that at that moment, I definitely
would not have hesitated to shoot and I would not have backed down under any
My first platoon made heavy
a few weeks back
and lost 4 people. We counted 37
dead. Sure hated to loose those 4 though.
Hate writing letters to wives and parents. Things have been pretty quiet since
then. We made one combat helicopter assault at night to help a long-range
patrol, but that was no problem. It has turned cold and windy and wet
all of a sudden.
19 NOV 69
19 NOV 69
Col. Haas is leaving the 15 of December, and things sure are in
turmoil right now. I have a lot of new people, and they are real jumpy. I am
running at about half regular authorized strength, but that is normal, and
better than last week.
23 NOV 69
23 NOV 69
Our battalion is moving to somewhere near Pleiku, no one
knows where or why just yet. I will be real busy until the move is complete,
so I thought I'd drop a line to let you know.
25 NOV 69
25 NOV 69
Camp Enari for 48 hours stand down before we go out again.
2 DEC 69
Lt. Russell Pickering died tonight. He came to the company in early October, just
a few days before I took over the company. His platoon was on an overnight platoon
sized ambush just outside the wire at Camp Radcliff. It should have been a relatively
safe mission. Around 2200 hours I got a frantic call over the radio that they were in
heavy contact. Lt. Pickering was very frantic and asking for everything I could get him.
He had been hit in the leg and was bleeding very badly. I called Bn for artillery, but
the Lt. could not see the illumination and marker rounds to adjust. Then I asked for
gun ships, but was turned down, because it was too dark to see anything. Finally I
succeeded in getting a spooky, AC47, gunship to support him with it's mini guns. It helped, but a
few minutes later another voice of a very frightened NCO came on the radio calling it off, because
it was coming too close. Lt. Pickering had passed out from blood loss by then and the NCO was now
in charge of the platoon. We assembled a quick reaction force to go to
their aid, but Bn would not let us go outside the wire.
They were probably right. In the darkness, uncertain of the platoon's actual position, we would
have probably wound up shooting each other. I sat there helpless all night, waiting for dawn to
get them inside the wire. By then Lt. Pickering had bled to death. It was the most frustrating,
helpless feeling to hear them in such need and so close and not be able to help. I completely
repressed that night, until an email from Carl Nagel, who remembered the incident after talking
with Gary Lysne over the phone. Lt. Pickering, mortally wounded and
probably acutely aware of that fact, continued to work to get help for his
people until he passed out. His
courage will not be forgotten. Russell volunteered to go to Vietnam in place of
his brother, who had children and was also in the service. He died six
weeks after getting to Vietnam. He is one of the many unsung heroes this site is dedicated to.
I wonder how many other stories like this I have repressed in self defense?
Thanks to Gary and Carl for bringing this memory back.
More details are in the email from Carl.
Carl Nagel about death of Lt. Pickering.
4 DEC 69
4 DEC 69
Hip Shoot. I am 15 miles south of Pleiku
on a small firebase we built our self. It is used for two 155mm howitzers as a
firebase. We were given the job to secure it. A real easy job and a nice break
for us. The only draw back is the dust. The monsoon is over here and we are on
a plain of fine red dust. It gets into everything. The wind blows 24 hours a
day and keeps it stirred up. At night you freeze to death and in the daytime
6 DEC 69
6 DEC 69
I have finally have Delta Company on its feet again. We built firebase Hip
Shoot from nothing, and everybody is real proud of the speed and design used
to complete it. Even General Wheelock liked it. The Colonel is just tickled
pink of course.
9 DEC 69
9 DEC 69
We got the word today that we would move to Division Base Camp at An Khe on
the 11th. The last unit stayed on bunker guard for a month, so maybe we might
get to spend Christmas in An Khe. I got my stateside assignment today,
Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. We ran into some
during a firefight a few days
back. I got a stake through my wrist, when I dove off the trail to get out of
the line of fire, nothing serious, just through my left wrist. It was just
enough to require a bandage and drainage tube. Went right through the old scar
I had there, but the Bn Surgeon said it would heal just fine.
10 DEC 69
10 DEC 69
We are at Camp Radcliff-An Khe for a stand down (rest). We will probably be
here until after New Years. Got a new Battalion Commander, LTC Mark. He is
real competent and very easy to work for. Delta Company is right now the
best company in the Battalion. The morale is really high again after
20 DEC 69
20 DEC 69
25 DEC 69
25 DEC 69
Sending out night patrols on perimeter security for Camp Radcliff.
9 JAN 70
9 JAN 70
From calm perimeter duty to fire fight 42 Kilo's away. Got two enemy in a
bunker complex. Back now at
Hard Times. Met "Crash" when he gave me a
recon ride up the hill in his
15 JAN 70
15 JAN 70
Just got in from a 7 day search and destroy. It rained day and night. Found
lots of bunkers, but no enemy.
21 JAN 70
21 JAN 70
Been out in rain over a week now. Starting to see signs of trench foot.
Began daily feet inspections by medics.
24 JAN 70
Assigned Bn S-3 Air.
31 JAN 70
31 JAN 70
6 FEB 70
6 FEB 70
for the Battalion
. Heard that two hours after I left, the
forgot to send in an updated location and got two people killed from
9 FEB 70
Awarded my second Bronze Star
meritorious service for period Aug 69 - Mar 70.
14 FEB 70
Awarded second Air Medal
for completing another 25
combat assault landings into LZ's under enemy fire, for a total of 50 hot LZ's
total during my two tours. This award was for the period of 12 OCT 69 - 15
JAN 70. Seems hard to believe there were that many.
19 FEB 70
19 FEB 70
. Everyone from Delta who passes through,
stops by to wish me luck.
25 FEB 70
25 FEB 70
11 MAR 70
Left Cam Rahn Bay a little after 8:00 am and after just under three
hours later we landed at Narita Airport in Japan. Due to electrical
problems, we stayed on the ground for over an hour. Then the seven and a
half hour flight to Alaska for refueling and finally about three and a half
hours to Seattle Tacoma International Airport in Washington State. The out
processing center in Cam Rahn Bay gave us these magazines as part of our
This magazine was published semi-annually by United States Army, Vietnam.
It is given to returning veterans upon completion of their tour of duty in
Vietnam to help them tell the story of their role in the war.
Click on the image above to leaf through it's pages.
These are the Sumer 1969 and Fall 1970 copies of "UPTIGHT
" a quarterly
magazine providing timely information to the troops in Vietnam.
Click on the cover image to read this magazine.
10 MAR 70
We landed in Seattle Tacoma International Airport about 0200
hours (2:00 am for you civilians), the day before we left Vietnam, thanks to the
international date line. It was snowing, windy, and very cold. on the teens. Since
we were all dressed in light weight tropical tan uniforms and had just come from
the heat of Vietnam, we really felt the cold. It is about 45 miles from the
civilian airport to Ft. Lewis, Washington, where we would get processed in and
receive new clothing and some US currency. They had taken all our
Vietnam and made us send the money home in a money order, so we had no money on
us. There was supposed to be a bus from the Ft. Lewis to pick us up, but our
plane arrived late and the bus had left for the night. There we were, no money
and no way to get to the Fort. As we all wandered around the nearly deserted
airport trying to figure out what to do, we became separated from each other. I
was walking to the baggage pickup section to look for a cab to see if they would take
me to the Fort on the promise that someone there would pay for the fare, when
this really beautiful young teenage girl, with long dark hair below her waist,
dressed in a mini skirt and tube top with bare midriff, carrying flowers, approached
offering me a flower and asked if I was
returning from Vietnam. I said I was and she smiled sweetly, then screamed baby
killer, spit into my face, and began hitting me with her fists. I grabbed her
wrists in shock and restrained her as she continued to struggle, kicking at me
and shouting obscenities. Suddenly two airport security personnel appeared and
drug her off. As I stood there, totally shocked, another man came up and
apologized and asked if I was OK. I said I was fine. He asked me if I needed
help, so I told him my dilemma over transportation. He took me to a coffee
stand and bought me a cup of coffee and told me to relax and he would be back in
a couple of minutes. When he returned, he grabbed my duffel bag and told me to
follow him, saying he had found a taxi driver willing to take me to the base. It
turned out that the taxi driver was an ex Vietnam Vet himself. When we got to
the base, neither of us knew where to go. I finally told him just to let me out
and I would go to the nearest building and find help there. As he drove off, I
felt the biting wind chill and had second thoughts. As it turned out, the
barracks in this area were all empty and locked. I started walking down the road
to find another area with some people in it, and the cold really started to
hurt. I began shivering violently and my hands were so cold that I could not
hold onto my duffle bag. I rigged the shoulder strap and began to run, hoping to
generate some body heat. I guess hypothermia must have set in, because the
officer in the jeep had to get out and shake me. He asked me who I was and what
I was doing out in this kind of weather in summer uniform. When I told him I was
just in from Vietnam and looking for the processing center, he took me with him
in the jeep to the Post Headquarters. It turns out he was the Officer of the Day
and had been checking guard shacks. After some hot coffee and warm blankets,
they took me to a bachelor officers quarters room and told me to take a hot shower and
someone would be by in the morning to pick me up for processing. On the way, he
stopped by his quarters, where he picked up a TV dinner for me to heat up after
I wonder if that young girl remembers the skinny, freckled faced, red headed
soldier she attacked that night. She had the right motive, stopping the war,
just attacked the wrong person. Hope she doesn't feel too guilty. I forgave her
years ago, although I was pretty traumatized at the time. It was only the
beginning of my re-introduction into the society, which had left me behind
during my two tours in Vietnam. I never got the chance to thank that
taxi driver, but will be forever grateful.
By mid afternoon, I had new
clothing uniforms, a pocket full of cash, and a plane ticket home for thirty
day leave with orders to report to Ft. Campbell, KY. Just over 24 hours
after leaving Vietnam, I was asleep in my own bed at home in Bamberg, South
Carolina, USA. It was all so
I would love to hear from the taxi driver and the young girl.
27 APR 70
Assistant Training Officer G-3 Ft Campbell, KY.
21 AUG 70
Awarded MOS 2162 Operations and Training Staff Officer. Awarded the
Army Commendation Medal
for service at Fort
Campbell as Assistant G3, Training Officer and Chief of Unit Training,
Headquarters, 101st Airborne Training Division for period of service of April
1970 through May of 1972.
11 SEP 70, Friday
I routinely left Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and drove
the 500 miles to my home in Bamberg, South Carolina for the weekend, leaving
around 6:00 pm Friday and being back on duty by 6:00 am Monday morning. It
should be an 8 to 10 hour drive, but the Opel GT automobile I drove and raced
back then would do 150 mph and I often did it in just under 6 hours, averaging
90+ mph in the dark, rain, sleet, snow, on two lane roads with peak speeds of
120-150 mph. I was of course fueling my adrenalin junky needs and I think
perhaps playing with a death wish. PTSD???? Anyhow on one such trip I was
stopped by one of Tennessee's finest, who had clocked me at over 130 mph,
although I had been approaching 150 when I saw him pulling up on be from behind.
I don't know why, but when he approached my car, he unsnapped his holster and drew his gun. When I saw
that in my side view mirror, I came to within a heartbeat of pulling my loaded
357 magnum, which was never far from my hand in the first few months after
Vietnam, and shooting first. He never saw the weapon and to this day does
not know how close to death he came. I was in uniform, and he was a
veteran himself, so we got to talking and he seemed quite impressed by speed
I had been going. He eventually suggested that I join the patrol if I
liked speed. He said he gets to drive flat out all the time, and it's perfectly
legal and someone else maintains his vehicle for him. I wanted to get out and
kick his self righteous ass, but I thanked him for letting me go with a warning
for going more that 5 miles over the limit. Later I thought long and hard about
the incident and realized that with my uncontrollable combat instincts, keeping
my weapons might result in my killing someone before I could stop myself. I sold
all the weapons that same month and have not owned anything by a small single
shot 22 caliber varmint rifle since then. I wonder how many other vets shot
someone out of
reflex and spent significant parts of their life behind bars as a result? I
wonder how many died chasing that adrenalin high on the highways? Wonder how I
got so lucky as to survive myself.
Left Fort Campbell, KY to attend my youngest sister Linda's wedding.
Driving the red Opel GT that I have been taking to the shopping lot rallies
for the last year. Driving the I-26 interstate at 100+ mph most of the way.
Stopped for gas and a coke. Took another Dristan allergy tablet, pulled back
on the interstate and floored it going up a hill just outside of Columbia, SC, when
I passed out from the medicine. Woke up to find I could not move or see and
could barely breathe. Found out later that I had passed a station wagon carrying
a thoracic surgeon and his family to the beach, probably going 120+ mpg. He saw
a cloud of dust and topped the hill just in time to see my GT cartwheel end over
end four times, then roll over sideways three times, before coming to an abrupt
halt as it wrapped around the concrete base of a sign post. I missed all the action,
since I was unconscious. The reason I couldn't breath was due to a collapsed lung.
The seven point racing restraint system of waist, shoulder and antisubmarine leg straps
were what saved me, as well as the incredible strength of the GT's unibody construction.
The deceleration forces created such G forces, that the 3 inch shoulder straps popped my
left lung like you would pop a paper bag. I would have deep black tattoo like
lines where the three inch wide shoulder and waist belts were and two inch marks
on the insides of my thighs from the antisubmarine straps had been. The reason I couldn't see, was that by the time
I regained consciousness the first time, the blood from the deep cut above my left eye,
where I had impacted the steering wheel, had now congealed and hardened, gluing my eyelids
shut. I finally managed to get my left hand up to my mouth and got enough saliva
rubbed on my eyes to open them. The first thing I noticed was the drivers side
window. It was collapsed down to only about two inches high. Then I passed out
again. At that point, I had the classic near death experience. I saw an
incredible smoking white light, which when my eyes finally adjusted enough for
me to look closely I realized was coming from the far end of a tunnel of light.
I felt myself...not my body, but my being...drawn towards that hot, white,
brilliant light. As I came to what I perceived as the source, I became aware of
beings calling to me, not with words, but with thoughts. They appeared to know
me and I felt I knew them, but could not identify them individually. It was a
feeling of being among family. I felt very welcome and loved. In an instant, and
I use that term meaninglessly, since there did not seem to be any passage of
time like we all know in life, I suddenly understood EVERYTHING about life and
knew that all was as it was meant to be and right.
Even the horrors of war, suffering, deaths of innocents. I can't get my mind around how
that is possible now that I am alive again, but at that moment, everything made sense and
I felt a direct connection to everything in existence. Then I became aware that I must be
dead. Just as I realized this, I became aware that I could remain here in this place of
total love and peace and complete understanding, but something made me hesitate to accept
the offer. A voice spoke in my head, telling me that I was welcome to stay, but pointed
out that my tasks in life were not complete. If I chose to return and complete the remaining
tasks, some of which would be very difficult, this place would still be here when I returned.
The choice was mine, but had to be made now! Then I finally felt the heat, which I thought
was from the light, but was actually from the afternoon sun on the collapsed roof of my car.
I heard someone a long way off call out to me. Slowly I noticed that I was breathing very,
very shallow and that someone, the thoracic surgeon I had passed, was telling me to breathe
shallow, because I probably had a collapsed lung. Then I heard the noise of the gasoline
engines powering the jaws of life as the rescue personnel attempted to free me from the car.
They tried to pry the door open, but the titanium arms of the spreader broke before the door
lock broke loose. They then began the slower task of cutting off the roof of the car, covering
my head with a towel to keep the breaking glass out of my eyes. Once they had peeled back the
roof, they had to rig up a cable to pull the steering wheel out of the way, so they could get
to the brake pedal, which had my right foot trapped. At some point while they were working on
the pedals, I passed out again. The next thing I knew was seeing flashing white rectangles in
front of my eyes, which I gradually realized was he fluorescent light fixtures in the emergency room
hallway as they wheeled me along the corridor to the treatment room. Once in the treatment room,
they inserted IV's to give me blood to replace the large amount I had lost into my chest and
from my scalp wounds. Then the surgeon came in and they told me they needed to insert a tube
into my chest to drain the fluid, so my lungs could expand and I could breathe normally again.
While they were prepping me for the insertion of the chest tube, I closed my eyes and began to
meditate, saving all my energies for my healing. Thinking I was unconscious, I felt them count
down three ribs, and then they stuck a scalpel through my chest wall, without any pain killers!
There were two nurses holding my arms and shoulders and two male nurses on my legs. I banged
both of the female nurses heads together and threw the male nurses against the walls. Then I
cocked my fist and would have decked the doctor, but he had already stepped back out of range.
Then I suddenly inhaled and for the first time since the wreck, actually got a full breath.
It felt so good, that I lay back down and just enjoyed being able to finally get enough oxygen.
The doctor approached carefully and apologized, saying that he could not have given me anything,
since I already had breathing difficulties. He asked it that felt any better. I said yes and
thanked him, then apologized to everyone else. The insertion of the tube hurt and felt really
weird, but after getting stabbed in the chest, it was not all that bad. Within minutes, they
had pulled a quart of fluid from my chest and I felt almost normal again. They gave me something
to make me sleep and the next time I was fully aware was late the next day, when they came to
take the chest tube out. They kept me in the hospital for observation another day
before, they releasing
me. I returned to Columbia the next day, to look for my CB radio and documents from the car.
When we got to the wrecker service yard, the owner was busy, so we just waited our turn. As we
waited, I leaned against some piece of junk, still a little weak from the ordeal. Finally the
wrecker service owner came over and asked what he could do for us. I told him that I wanted to
see if there was anything I could salvage from the red Opel GT they had brought in last week from
just outside Columbia. He said sure, help yourself. I asked him where it was located, and he
said you're sitting on it! Incredulous, I stood up and looked at the tangled mess, and still did
not believe it until I walked around it and saw the license plates and the red tail lights and FTKY
Army sticker. Then I actually got weak and went to my knees. It was the first time I actually
realized how bad the wreck had been. There was, of course, nothing I could salvage. We told him
to sell it for scrap after the insurance adjuster saw released it. I left for Ft. Campbell the next day,
running in a motocross race that Saturday. The following Monday I returned to Columbia to see my
surgeon for a follow up appointment. As he examined me, he said I was doing just fine and would
not need to come back to see him again. During our conversation, he asked me what I had been doing
since the wreck and I told him about returning to the Fort and my 3rd place win in
the previous Saturday. He got mad as hell, telling me I could have died. He said the incision for
my chest tube had not had sufficient time to heal completely, and if I had strained those muscles
too hard, the wound could have opened and caused my chest to collapse again, possible collapsing
both lungs this time and killing me. He really chewed me out. Eventually everything healed, but I never
forgot that near death experience. Since that day, death holds no fear for me. Suffering, yes,
but I now see death as a positive experience to be looked forward to with eager anticipation.
I don't know what my "unfinished tasks" are, but I now live every day knowing that it may be my
last and try to live up to the tasks I am supposed to accomplish. It wasn't the last brush with
death my adrenalin junky adventures would cause, but it was the most life altering.
This is a photo of my car, before and after. Remember, the roof was collapsed down to 2 inches
high after the impact.
Wonder how many combat vets died chasing that adrenalin high from combat?
13 MAY 72
Left for Ft Benning to attend the Infantry Officer's Advance Course.
29 MAY 72
Company 72, 7th Student Brigade TSB, Ft. Benning, GA on temporary duty,
waiting IOAC start.
2 JUN 72
Assistant S-3 USA Marksmanship Training Unit
27 AUG 72
IOAC 73-2 36 weeks.
18 JUN 73
Student Officer attending Columbus College, GA.
6 JAN 77
Last 201 personnel file
leaving service from 3287th USAR School, Columbia, South Carolina.
9 AUG 87
Legend of The Drag Hole …
30 JUN 2001br>
Retired from University of South Carolina College of Liberal Arts Information
and Technology Center, Assistant Director.
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